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A celebration of mud - Reena Aggarwal

- Middlesex XC Championships 2022, Horsenden Hill

As a schoolchild, I did everything possible to avoid running cross-country. Why would anyone want to be running in the cold, wet, muddy conditions – it made no sense for me. Also being Indian, mud isn’t something that is necessarily celebrated!

But, since joining Queens Park Harriers in January 2019, I have been hearing about the exploits of my fellow club members, seeing pictures of mud covered spikes but mostly hearing how wonderful it is to be running in the ‘wonderful’ British winter off road! Every season I have studiously avoided entering any cross country but over the past year or so, my feelings toward cross country may have tempered. Gez, my partner, waxes lyrical about his many years of cross country at school and I am sure this is what has made him such a fast and economical runner on the road and track. Others in the club also speak of the benefits of cross country in making you a stronger runner on the road and how it is essentially a full body workout… so this year, I thought I would be brave… or mad.

I signed up for the Middlesex County Championships as a club runner to be held in Horsenden Hill in Greenford on January 8, 2022. The week running up to the race had been wet and a muddy course was discussed though I am not sure I really knew what to expect!

During the morning, it continued to rain, and I watched the juniors race and return mud-covered, there were moments where I did contemplate not running, but that would have been defeat. Gez’s niece ran the under 11’s so we were able to cheer her on – she came in third for Richmond and is now off to the inter-county championships!

Gez's niece after her 3rd place finish

The senior women’s race was just over 8km – three laps. Susan Kennedy, Karima Harris, Fiona Eagle and Gilly Cross were also running – all cross-country veterans unlike me. This was going to be only my second cross-country race ever, the first being Parliament Hill in December 2021 which was cold but dry. So, I laced up with my 8mm spikes with trepidation. Karima kept saying let your feet get wet now as they’ll only get wetter and colder during the race and that will be horrible. I gingerly went for a warm-up jog and tried to avoid as much mud as I could. Susan kept reminding that it would be fun and that I would be glad I had done it!

The QPH Ladies

We lined up at the start and we were off! During the first lap, I tried as hard as I could to dodge the mud and keep my feet dry. At the second lap, I realised that this was a pretty pointless task, my feet already felt like ice blocks and the only thing to do is to run through the waterlogged, boggy and muddy course. The squelching was quite something! At the third lap, all I could think was when is this ever going to end, how can I avoid falling and can I try and make sure I don’t sacrifice a spike to the mud! I did make it to the end without falling and even smiled! The marshalls and supporters on the course were so encouraging with shouts of ‘you’ll be so proud of yourself at the end’ and ‘is that a never-again face’ to ‘bravo’.

Reena, just after tackling the mud lake

Cross country is quite a different form of running. I am starting to see why those that do it love it so much. As someone who mainly runs on the road, cross-country is a raw and more pure form of running. When you run a road race, you try and maintain a specific pace across the course and you are mostly competing with yourself or using other runners to help you keep that pace. With cross-country, you must run by feel as trying to maintain a pace when you have no idea what is coming around the next corner – a hill, a mud bog, or even a water jump is pointless! Also, you end up running a lot of the race alone as everyone ends up in single file, so you need to trust your body more and allow it to navigate the obstacles of nature. Field sizes are also much smaller in cross-country, but the runners are fast, strong and there is this sense of everyone trying to survive not only the elements of weather, but also all the myriad of ways nature likes to trip you up!

Reena and Susan, out for an easy Saturday jog

I can testify, it was hands-down the muddiest I have ever been in my life, my socks were caked in mud, legs covered but as everyone had assured me, I did feel that post-run endorphin rush and can see the value in cross country! My Indian family were incredulous with the amount of mud I was covered in! But, as someone said to me later – when else can you as a grown adult have a chance to run through mud and not give a heck at how messy you are getting!

And yes, I have signed up for more… call me a glutton for punishment or mud…

🔴 ⚪️ 🔴

How many Hoops does it take to remove a wet sock...


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