As an athlete I've never had a triple-A rating. My progress has been frequently erratic and even sluggish at times. In 2007, I ran in the National Cross Country Championships. It was being held for the first time at Herrington Country Park near Sunderland. It can be exposed and merciless being perched on the Magnesian Limestone Scarp. However, I pulled out of the race after a mile, so I intended this time to see it through to the end.
This year saw the Nationals returning to Sunderland. With steady flurries of snow, the bright cavalcade of club tents and banners were pretty much floating in a swamp when I arrived. The men's race was the last of the day, starting at 3pm. There was around 15 of us huddled in the tent, trying in vain to find some warmth and dry ground to change in. A quick look at part of the course confirmed that it was going to be a mudbath.
In the pub the night before (top training tip) I had stated 'on the record' that a top 500 place would be reasonable, but later during the evening, I downgraded myself to top 600. Stepping out into the mud and icy water was a stark reminder that I was going to get muddy. very muddy. The klaxon went at 3, and the rampage began with around a thousand would-be contenders making their way up from the pens to the first turn. The course is a former colliery and there's two long drags halfway through. But it was the mud that prevailed. The edges of the course near the tape that had been pretty firm, were soon chopped up and mashed so that there was no good ground anywhere.
The first of 3 laps up the hill was entertaining, but as the race progressed and I caught fewer and fewer runners, an air of austerity crept over me and I longed for the finish, the light at the end of the tunnel.
The support was good and with so many runners from all over the country it was a surprise when I caught glimpses of local runners. In such a big field you have little idea where you're placed. This uncertainty continued but I was feeling good and wasn't about to start blaming the Eurozone for the conditions (unlike some..!). I looked at my garmin after 17 minutes and didn't look at it again until the finishing straight where around 4 got past me. They were clearly better performing economies.
A quick scan of some of the runners at the end suggested one or two had had a 'double dip' and it took a scrub down in the garden afterwards to free myself of the clagg. I didn't even bother to wash the socks; straight into the bin. After today the forecast remains cautiously optimistic. Well done to the fast lads who won the coveted team prize. We've been after it for a long time now. As for me, well 480th was a result.
Mens race highlights on video here: