None of these words sprang to mind as I lined up at the start for the final Harrier League cross country fixture at Alnwick yesterday.
I was one of a number of purple first-timers getting their mud on, having been persuaded to do so by some of the regulars, and even after seeing the photos from Thornley – and spending the last few days peeking at the weather forecast from behind the sofa – we were all eager to give it a try. Tim Skelton had even invested in revolutionary ultra-luminescent mudclaws, presumably so that his progress could be visually tracked from the International Space Station.
A number of us had travelled up the A1 on the Striders coach and much of the talk had centred on the possible conditions. Would anyone be taking a tumble? Would we be returning with the same number of shoes as we started with? Would ’27 Hours’ pale into insignificance compared to one of us being stranded waist-deep in a bog? Joking aside, I think most of us were feeling pretty relieved that it was fairly decent weather and we could try and enjoy the race. With both the men’s and ladies’ teams seeking to cement their places in the top division, everyone was steeling themselves to go out and give it their best.
Upon arrival, we made our way over to the course and were welcomed by Geoff, Susan and co. at the Striders tent. Lots of smiling faces, nobody looking too green… even Gareth looked pleased to be back doing cross country, although every time someone mentioned Thornley I could see his eye twitching slightly. Jack, Phil and I had a quick recce of the course and it didn’t look too bad – a bit of a muddy slog uphill for the first half but then a nice, long stretch through the woods to recover and a fast downhill section towards the end of the lap. Unusually for me, I wasn’t feeling nervous in the least – I had been telling myself all week to just keep it steady and enjoy it, without putting pressure on myself to run a particular time. Back at the tent there was plenty of encouragement from the seasoned runners, too, which kept the positivity up for us newbies. Then there were the obligatory team photos – including the men – and the application of Strider face paint to strike terror into the hearts of opposing runners (if the sight of me squeezing into my skimpy shorts and vest wasn’t enough to do so already).
It was soon time for the women’s race and the men all took up positions around the start to cheer them on. Elaine went off particularly strongly from the fast pack and there were plenty of Striders in good positions come the start of the second lap (and only one or two sad faces!). With a strong result needed, there were a few nervous seconds ticking by as finishers started to arrive and no sign of any Striders, but a big cheer went up as Elaine, Rachael and Tamsin all arrived consecutively – pushing each other hard in a tight sprint finish – to place high up the field. Seeing all of the ladies’ team run well gave the boys plenty of confidence and we knew that our fast lads were capable of a great result.
When the call came to line up at the start, I squeezed my petite frame to the front of the slow pack, and when the gun went off I’m certain I led the race for at least 0.46 seconds. There were plenty of runners overtaking me immediately but I’d told myself that I was going to take it steady for the first lap and see how my legs felt. The going wasn’t too bad in most places (although shin-deep bog in some) and there were plenty of Strider faithful dotted along the course to give you encouragement.
The long uphill was pretty energy-sapping and by the final lap I was seriously plodding and being overtaken by a lot of medium and fast pack runners, although I was pleased to see Jason, Phil and Gareth running strongly. I tried to pick a quicker runner to follow through the final stretch through the woods to make sure that I didn’t relax, and then gritted my teeth (and ankles) to throw myself down the molehill-covered descent. I knew from the women’s race that the home straight needed a big finale so I gurned as best I could and made a burst for the finish line. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Jack was right on my shoulder, having made up the time from the medium pack, and almost pipped me to the post. Disappointingly, a runner in blue (Birtley, I think) did manage to get past me – but I bet he didn’t pull as good a face.
I filed along the finishers funnel, legs burning, and went to join the runners who had finished ahead of me. We barely had time to get our breath back when we heard the booming command of Captain Smith to pose for another team photo. We dutifully obliged. I’m pretty sure her exact words were, “I need all of you hunky, sweaty men to huddle together and look hunky for a photo, NOW!” but I was still in a muddy, exhausted haze and my recollection is a bit fuzzy.
Presumably thanks to the chip timing, the results were in almost immediately after the men’s race had finished, and there were celebrations all round as both the men (3rd on the day) and women (8th) retained their Division 1 status for another season! The cherry on the cake was the news that the men had in fact leapfrogged Durham Harriers in the table to finish 6th overall, with the women only a point behind their Harrier counterparts in 7th. Cue copious amounts of delicious Strider baked goods and even a bit of fizz! Credit to Geoff, Susan and all of the Striders who turned out over the last five months to cap an excellent season’s running.
All in all, a great day out and I’ll be looking forward to having a go again next season!
|position||bib||name||cat||pack||race time||actual time|
|1||642||Carla Maley (North Shields Poly)||FV35||S||29:45||29:45|
|position||bib||name||cat||pack||race time||actual time|
|1||1829||Michael Grimes (DCH)||Msen||S||37:43||37:43|