There's no I in Cross Country

It was a busy Saturday morning… an ‘easy’ parkrun (is it ever easy at Gladstone?!), picking Neil up on way back to ours for a swift bacon and egg bagel whilst we filled up flasks and packed up our spikes and other cross country paraphernalia - making sure to pack plenty of bin bags to shelter us from the mud and rain! Neil had consumed a variety of canned beers the night before, so I was sure he was going to bail on us. But either through real commitment or due to mild bullying, he came through and joined us for a XC road-trip to Luton for the third instalment of Chiltern League fun!

We arrived to a mild drizzle and instantly joined the currently tame looking toilet queue… just in time! By the time we had joined the team by our flag, the line had tripled in size! (XC tip #1 right there…. toilet early!) Bill sorted us out with our numbers and we all got pinned up. It was at this point that I realised, in my bacon fuelled haste this morning, I hadn’t put on my hoops yet. There was no way I was stripping off in that weather… it was FREEZING!! So I neatly pinned on my bib and zipped my vest inside my jacket to warm it up before I slipped it on over my neon t-shirt as close to the start of the race as I possibly could! After hearing tales of the course, I screwed in some new 12mm spikes with ice cold hands, then gloved back up to wait until it was my time to run. I soon realised I was the only girl! It was quite a weird feeling, knowing everyone I was with had longer to wait that I did.

Suddenly, it was five minutes before the start of the race and there were no other women runners to be seen in my vicinity! I quickly stripped off my lovely warm layers, pulled on my spikes and hoops, and ran to the start-line... where I joined a jumping crowd of runners trying to keep warm under a condensation cloud of hot breath, before the race went on its way. Get ready… the fast girls at the front trotted a few steps forward and assumed the ‘on your marks’ position. 3-2-1-BANG! We were off on our way!

Neil had briefed me on the course in the car on the way… it was a pretty flat route, ending with a killer hill! There was very little mud, but I really enjoyed the grip I got from the longer spikes on the corners and on the one very slippy patch in an otherwise rock solid field. Literally! My poor new 12mms were hitting stone after stone and felt as if they were poking back through, up into my shoe! I was losing places to all the trail shoe wearers as they dashed past me on my hard land. Why did I change them!?! But then something wonderful happened… The next corner had a dog marshalling it… AND around that corner was the most beautiful grassy down-hill! The view was stunning… but so was the grip from the long spikes! PHEW! I had made the right decision to make the change after all! I flew down past some of the more carefully running trail-shoers and got back into my stride. But then I remembered…. what goes down… must go back up again! THE HILL!!

It did not start well… STEPS! I tried to run up the first couple, but with a combination of deep treads and hard ground, it was much easier to walk them and put the pace back on when were back on the pure slope And what a ’slope’ it was. It seemed to go on forever, making Parliament Hill even seem kind! I thought about walking, but decided to try and work on my technique instead… taking smaller steps and pumping my elbows back. Finally I could see the throngs of people at the top of the hill! There was really great crowd support… it felt like you were part of something like Le Tour de France, running through the supports close on both sides. The cheering really pulled me up that last slog and round along the final flat to the finish line… which was also a lot longer than I was expecting! After my legs started to feel a little more normal after the hill climb, I did everything I could to put in a last sprint to the finish… with great support from the QPH boys!

I can’t believe I’m saying this… but I LOVED it! It was bloody tough at the end, but a really lovely run. Who’d have though Luton would be so pretty!