I never thought I would actually volunteer for cross country running. If I had to make a list of the worst five things I ever did at school, cross country would be waaaay up there. We only ever did two sessions a year but I dreaded them. It was two laps around all the sports fields behind the school. Not all that far but to get from one side to the other involved going through a small gap in a hedge about the width of a standard single gate. By the time several hundred teenagers had passed through it, that gap in the hedge was a quagmire. People literally left their shoes behind in it, and stopping to retrieve them was prohibited. It was always cold, always wet, and then communal showers under the teachers’ supervision afterwards made it infinitely worse.
With memories like that, I still don’t know why, when the coach at my running club asked for volunteers for a cross country team for a county tournament of 5K events, I put myself forward. I am primarily a road runner. The closest I have come to cross country is running round a local nature reserve, although I do like to run there. It is peaceful and the scenery is lovely. I had been warned that the standard of running at the event series is high, and that worried me. I’m not a cross country runner, and my 5K PB is just under 27 minutes, respectable but not award-winning. The coach insisted it was nothing I couldn’t handle if I wanted to give it a go, though, and she’d happily add me to the team.
The first event was this weekend, and it turned out to be unseasonably warm for mid-October. I’d been worried I might be cold running in a vest, but it was 25°C! It was a tough course, mostly grass, uneven and hilly, and the other runners were fast. Really fast. I was not at all surprised to finish last of my team. I was really disappointed to finish in 30:15. I know I started too fast. The first lap was tough but ok but the second lap was dreadful. There were points where I seriously considered pulling out and it was only the thought of letting the team down that stopped me, and the thought that my team-mates would be waiting for me at the finish line that kept me going. The course was mean enough to have an uphill finish (as well as an uphill start) which required running through trees to within sight of the finish but then running downhill past it before turning to run two tight corners and then uphill to the finish funnel.
One element my running coaches always mention is that we need to be good at running hard on tired legs, and as I emerged through the trees on the second lap, that was what I was thinking and that was what I set about to do. I heard my coach shouting my name, cheering me on, but it was all I could do to focus on my running. She called to me that one of the others would run with me, and then there she was, just inside the ropes that divided the running course from the rest of the field. It helped so much hearing her just behind me, yelling “you’ve got this, relax your breathing, come on, you can do this”. I got to the final turn and saw the finish line above me and found some extra energy from goodness knows where and powered to the line. And my energy ran out! Another member of the running club who was officiating gave me a high five as I walked through the finish funnel and I only had strength to smile and high five back, no breath for a Thanks or anything!
I knew it had been tough, but I was disappointed not to finish in under 30 minutes. I wasn’t last. I finished 117th out of 129 women, and a full 6 minutes before the last place runner, but I was still disappointed. Oh well, I just have to put it behind me, learn from the experience and apply the knowledge to the next run in the series. Which I’m told is tougher than that one. Gulp!