There was a boxer plying his trade in the 1980s & 90s who went under nickname of “The Truth”. At the time I considered it a little pretentious but after yesterday’s race I gained more of an appreciation of the message he was trying to convey. In going ‘toe to toe’ with the Witton Park course you would discover “The Truth” about many things including: your commitment; your resolve; your degree of competitiveness; your fitness; your physical condition; your running technique; your gear choice etc. All of which would be given the most sternest of tests.
Four Striders chose to undertake these tests and merrily travelled to Blackburn on the Durham Harriers coach “with the elite” as we were informed. The elite proved to be very friendly and included a number of old friends (and a new one: Tracy Henderson from Sedgefield Harriers) who were more than happy for us to use their tent which we duly helped to carry and put up. The light cast inside the tent by the bright orange material was unusual to say the least.
Anyway, the weather in Blackburn was cold and windy and peppered with the occasional snow / sleet / hail shower. The course wasn’t as muddy as we’d expected although this would change significantly during the course of the day. After watching the many junior races Steph and Susan adjourned to the ‘Orange Palace’ to prepare for the fight. The Northerns are longer than the HL (8K rather than 6) and tend to be a bit tougher – well this time they’d gone overboard with the toughness. The whole course was now covered in thick, deep mud the sort that allows no rhythm to your running. There were steep hills too where the mud made ascent an exhausting business and descent a slippery dangerous process. There were also a couple of opened gates where the mud had been turned into a wet, brown blancmange hiding stones of various sizes. All perfect for establishing those truths.
350 women set off on the three laps of torture. It was great to see Susan and Steph slugging it out along with all the other women from far flung places such as Sheffield, Liverpool and Hull. They included the very speedy & well known names, to the less speedy but equally determined women who are no doubt heroines in their own clubs and, after yesterday, to the rest of us as well. Susan and Steph both finished strongly, while being showered in hail, and felt fairly comfortable with the truths they had discovered! Many thanks to you both and well done!
The men’s race at 12k, 4 laps & 8 hills was the final ‘event of the evening’. Mike and I lined up with the other 700 plus expecting a bruising encounter and to discover the answer to those truths. We both knew we had plenty of commitment because we were there on that startline ready to go, but those other truths? Well we were about to find out!
It was thick mud from the start, impossible to get any rhythm, but I stayed upright, unlike one or two others, so technique mustn’t be too bad. Mike passed me fairly early on and I didn’t feel I could stay with him – perhaps my competitiveness was lacking. The prospect of four laps in these conditions was daunting but there was no way I was dropping out so my resolve was in good order. However, those hills, two on each lap, were testing my fitness to the utmost and, after suffering a series of niggling injuries over the past five months, fitness was proving a bit ‘wanting’ – an uncomfortable truth. Descending too was proving difficult (normally a strength). The top of one downhill bit in particular was treacherous and the heels of my ‘spikes’ provided little purchase – perhaps I should have worn my fell shoes?! Heavy hail showers were proving my decision to wear a ‘thermal’ was a good one though – so gear choice wasn’t all bad.
The laps were getting fewer as one runner, just in front of me, went head first into the blancmange. He appeared unhurt so I just ran around him – my competitiveness and resolve was obviously ok then. But the fitness was still a problem on those hills and the truth about my physical condition wasn’t all good either. While the injuries were holding up well (hamstring, calf & back!) those few extra pounds put on during enforced inactivity and Christmas celebrations, were starting to make their presence felt. But I managed to make it onto the final lap and get up and down the final two hills. Approaching the finish I spotted two ‘local’ vests ahead: a Darlington Harrier and a Tyne Bridger. The latter had been irritating me for most of the race as he would stop and walk quite often, when I would overtake him, only for him to sprint passed me moments later. Anyway, the truth about my competitiveness was that it was in good working order as I ‘stepped on the gas’ to pass both these runners in a dash for the line. Mike was there to ‘welcome’ me having finished a couple of minutes ahead which bodes well for greater challenges ahead.
So it was all over. One of the toughest x/c races I’ve ever run, and what about those ‘truths’? Well, here’s my verdict:
- Commitment: unquestionable.
- Resolve: still intact.
- Competitiveness: in good order although slightly diminished from days of yore.
- Fitness: room for improvement and needs working on.
- Physical condition: good for age but certain refinements needed.
- Running Technique: adequate even under the most challenging conditions.
- Gear Choice: acceptable – plenty of experience to call on.
|1||Charlie Hulson (Sale Harriers, Manchester)||0:43:16|
|1||Claire Duck (Leeds City Athletic Club)||0:30:21|