If I say the words Cross Country, what does that mean to you? Does it fill you with enthusiasm for getting outdoors and onto the trails with adventures and stories to tell or does it bring back memories that make you shudder, of freezing cold, grey afternoons at school, often dressed inappropriately in a boxy t-shirt and nylon shorts (or in my case an airtex shirt, games skirt and MASSIVE P.E knickers – just me?)
I have recently moved from the latter to the former and actually now much prefer off-road to on. Yes, there’s all the research that shows that running on trails is better on the body but for me I think it’s better for my mind. Given the choice of fields, hills, I mean undulations, ever-changing views and fresh country-side air over pavements, dodging pedestrians and exhaust fumes filling my lungs…Not to mention the benefits to your core and general fitness and strength in your legs, feet ankles…plus the chance to run through muddy puddles with pure childlike abandon… Can you tell which one I prefer?!
So at the end of last year, I gamely put my name forward for the 3-counties cross-country league with my running club. I managed 4 out of the 5 races and wore shorts for 2 of them, because #shortsclub
I have since categorized them thus…
The Hilly One with the Brook
The Freezing Cold, Sideways Rain and Windy Hilly One
The One That Was Actually OK (although we nearly got caught in some clay pigeon shooting crossfire, at least that’s what I think it was, that or some major event going down)
The Muddy One, actually, make that the MUDDY one, so muddy that all other mud is compared to it – genuinely.
None of them were easy but actually, that was the point. I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account of each one – the title kinda says it how it was. Suffice to say I was challenged in each and every one of them but the feeling of finally crossing the finish line and the slight air of smugness that you earn for the rest of the day made each and every one of them worth it. As with any of these events, if you ask me during them if I’m doing any more then it’s a definite no, but as soon as I’m finished then you *might* get me signing up for another, and another…
Creating a story to tell is what every run is about for me; sometimes the stories go down in our group’s running folklore, like the time we discovered there was a new running pace, running at ‘The Pace of Cows’.
It’s incredible how quick one can run when 20 cows are heading in your direction. These cows were clever though, they were ‘strategic’ cows, they had clearly been plotting for some time how their attack would play out. Not only did they very cleverly block off our only exit, but they separated the less-quick runners from the main pack…added to that, the fact they had two extra legs than us mere mortals meant they could cover a lot more ground, it appeared that we were doomed.
My role that day, as is often the case, was to be the ‘adult’ and lead the group out and back safely, so, when hurtling across the field as fast as my aged legs would carry me, I turned to look behind and saw that the Strategic Cows had separated the weaker runners from the group, I had a decision to make…was it every man for himself…or should I do the right thing…argghhhh such a dilemma! Needless to say, the running club no longer has as many members…nah, not really, I stopped running and the cows only went and stopped running too; it was a miracle, hallelujah I cried (internally)…but it would appear that they were not only ‘Strategic Cows’ but they were ‘Cunning Cows’ too, as they only went and started running again. And so it carried on, they ran a bit, we stopped, I clapped my hands and they ran away a bit, then they ran a bit, we stopped….and so on and so forth, until we managed, one by one to throw ourselves into the safety of the next field, not caring that a barbed-wire fence stood in our way. So, the lessons learned that day? If you want to do a PB at your next race, take a cow with you!
When was the last time that, as a grown-up, you ran through a puddle? A year ago, I would have said that I couldn’t remember. Ask me now and I will probably say ‘just the other day’. In fact reader, at the time of writing, it was just yesterday.
As a new runner, there is the temptation for some to avoid the puddles and the mud. I say you’re going to have to get your feet wet and your trainers muddy at some point on your run so you may as well get it over and done with at the beginning and you can then just crack on with your run and not lose your stride by trying to avoid it. After all, if you’ve made the choice to go on a cross-country run in the winter, you know it’s not going to be clean right? Actually, lets not make this exclusively winter, we do live in the UK after all… It’s also incredibly liberating running through mud and water, and makes you feel that you’ve really earned that hot shower afterwards. Not forgetting that some of the best stories come from the muddy trails.
Just remember to clean your trail shoes afterwards – I* get the garden hose on mine then stuff with newspaper to dry. I know others take theirs into the shower with them or just bung them in the washing machine.
Oh and make sure your laces are tied properly too – don’t want to lose a shoe…
*I say I there but actually it’s mostly my husband, I mention this in case in case he’s reading…