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Wednesday 3 December 2014

Cross Country Hatred: Earthworms, Mountains & AWESOME Spectating

Rain is pelting down and our feet are sinking into the already sodden grass. Huddled in the Club tent, we try to stop the worms getting into our bags. Actual wriggly worms. And as we’re all wearing spiked running shoes, it’s going to be worm-kebab time when we start running on the mushy grass. Poor Jim

Northbrook post-race legs. Spoiler: We all survived.

However it’s not all earthworm-death and torrential rain, I get some good news too. 

The race is 4 miles long, not the 5 miles I’d thought. So just once around the fields, a bit of a trot up a hill and then a cup of coffee. It’s sounding pretty good. Apart from the rain. And the worms. And the having-to-run.  

There had better be cake afterwards. 

Waiting until the last minute due to the downpour, I miss my warm-up. I’ll be fine. I’m sure I’ll be fine. It has to be better to warm up on the run, than be out in that freezing rain? In fact, running in that would be more likely to be a ‘cool down’ rather than a ‘warm up, right’? Huddling in a nice warm tent is much more sensible, I tell myself. I ignore the little voice that tells me ‘You realise you’re talking crap, right?’

It’s time.

The girls all pour out of the tiny Northbrook gazebo like clowns out of a tiny car. The men’s race is half an hour later so they’re staying in the warm and dry. I don’t blame them. I’d stay in the tent too. If someone removed the worms for me that is.  

It’s nice though at the start. Despite the rain. There is a sea of green and gold sunburst vests. The feeling of camaraderie makes me forget, just for a moment, that very soon I’ll be running around a field, covered in mud and feeling like hell. 

The girls at the front in their tiny pants and crop tops, bend forward for a good start, the ones in the middle including me, try to coordinate our starts so we don’t get mown down by the over-enthusiastic girls behind us. The girls at the back put on their best ‘mowing down the girls in front’ faces. We all look serious and dedicated and as though our very lives depend on getting a good start.

Then the gun goes off and the entire crowd of ladies do a very girly “Oooh!”. It would have been highly amusing if I wasn’t running for my life, trying to avoid being trampled into the mud by the girls behind me wearing spiked shoes. 

The whole field rushes past me. Like the WHOLE field. Did I miss some sort of energy drink given out at the start? Maybe there’s something really special at the end? Maybe they’re giving out free trainers to the first 50 finishers or something. Or maybe it’s just the thought of finishing quickly and being able to stop running through ankle deep mud. 

I try to run a bit faster but my legs aren’t having any of it.

Picture by the lovely Sarah McNaney

I try to think of excuses. My legs are tired from bike ride yesterday. My spikes aren’t spiky enough. Maybe I’m ill. (Tries a fake cough). Maybe they’re all going too fast and then I can overtake them all at the end. I didn’t warm up because it’s raining. Also I’m not wearing clothes that make me look as though I’ve forgotten my PE kit and am being made to run in my pants and vest. Everyone knows that crop top and pants are the best thing to race cross country in ...  

Ah crap. I’m just going to have to get on with it. *Puff, pant.* This SUCKS.

How can I enjoy trail running, but not cross country? Maybe it’s the spikes. I must be allergic to spiky shoes. That’s it. That must be what’s slowing me down so much as well. Stupid spikes. 

This course is fairly flat, although I am slightly suspicious of the fact that we are running towards Beacon Hill. Beacon Hill which has its own name and is so stupidly steep we have run hill repeats up it. And it has a freaking massive beacon up the top. I can remember Lord of the Rings. You remember that MASSIVE mountain the hobbits had to run up to light the beacon? It was EXACTLY like that. But without the hobbits. 

But I overtook a few people going up the hill. Ha ha! I thought. My hill reps here in the past have helped! I am like Queen of the Hill! I bounded up the hill, wearing my imaginary crown shooting scornful looks at everyone else. I am WINNING at running up hills! 

But the girls I was overtaking? They knew something I didn’t know. They knew we had to go up Beacon Hill TWICE. 

The second time? I wasn’t overtaking anyone. Queen of the Hill? More like Over the Hill. I plodded up, doing what can only be calling ‘running’ by the generous minded. 

I dragged myself around the field, mud up my legs, earthworm murder under my shoes and despair in my heart. Why are the miles taking so long to go? I check my Garmin ... how can I ONLY have gone that far? I’ve got MILES to go before I finish. 

Run ... Run ... Run ... 

I check my Garmin again. 0.06miles have gone past since I last checked it. Oh this is rubbish. At this rate I’ll be here ALL day. AND there isn’t even a medal at the end. There had better be cake or I’m going to be REALLY grumpy. GrumpIER. 

Then the ground disappears.

There’s a ditch. A massive ditch. Filled with mud. The taller women in front are jumping it. Some are landing in it. This doesn’t bode well for a vertically-challenged girl like me. I summon up my best gazelle-like leap and throw my arms out at the same time, pushing the girl over next to me. 


I land on the other side of the ditch and a quick glance shows me, that luckily my accidental push-ee made it over too. Phew. I probably wouldn’t have waded back in to save her but I WOULD have shouted an apology. I’m thoughtful like that. 

Picture by the lovely Sarah McNaney

Run up the hill and back onto the trails and there’s slippery mud everywhere. It’s like ice skating, but dirtier. My spikes are thoroughly clogged up and I can’t claim the grace of Bambi-on-Ice but I manage Bog-Monster-Emerging-From-Toilet. It’s carnage, people are slipping all over the place, my legs are skating around but I manage to avoid the one thing I’m most scared of in cross-country ... stepping on my own foot in spiked shoes. I don’t even get trodden on by anyone else’s spiked shoes.

Am obviously over-achiever. 

We emerge from the slippery mud and back onto the grass and leaves of the playing fields. We circle the field. This is promising. This is towards the finish! ... And past the finish. 

Stupid cross country. 

And guess what. Just to top off the muddy, mucky horror, we get a 2nd go at the ditch jump. 

2 goals: Don’t fall in. Don’t fall in. 

I can’t quite manage my gazelle-leap of before, making do with a cat-startled-by-hoover jump but am grateful not to have ended up in the dirt soup. I’m on the last muddy, grassy bit now, just one more corner and it’s the final straight. It’s not been my race and my legs – and heart – just haven’t enjoyed it.

But it’s nearly done and ... hang on! The girl I’ve been leapfrogging with the whole time has just put on a burst of speed to try and overtake me in a sprint finish! Can’t have that! My legs, thoroughly unimpressed at the whole cross country thing, decide that they DO have something left and whisk me along to the finish chute ... a hair ahead. I hope it’s not ditch-jump-pushed-girl or she is going to beat me to DEATH with the finish token at this final injustice. 

Northbrook ladies. I'm on the far right. (Pic source unknown)

I am relieved to be finished, but am disappointed with how I’ve done. I UNDERSTAND that I can’t be good at things I haven’t trained for. But I don’t have to LIKE it. 

I’ve trained for ultras this year. This involves running really, really slowly, eating snacks and by staying entertained by bushes. And not murdering chickens. I can’t expect to go from that to running like a mud-crazy-cheetah in spiky shoes. They’re opposite things but with running.

Like expecting to be good at bobsleigh because you’ve practised sitting.

I know I can’t EXPECT to be good. But I want to be. Dammit, Running Gods!!! (Howled)

So I take my sulky self and my over-expectations-of-cross-country-running over to spectate the mens’ race. Now this is where cross country makes up for all previous ills. This made up for the rain. This made up for the earthworms. This even made up for running up Massive-Stupid-Mountain-Beacon-Hill twice.

It was carnage.

There were men falling over in the ditch. There were men sliding into the ditch on their bottoms. There was even one poor man who lost his shoe in the ditch.

In fact, I felt so sorry for him, I videoed it. And I definitely don’t watch it when I’m sad just to laugh at this poor man and his hopeless eyes as he searches or his missing shoe.

Cross country running to watch this?



  1. Oh poor wee old man! I have seen several shoeless people in races I have run. pro tip, if you lose a shoe take the sock off too, muddy socks are very slippy on grass. How long was that xc? Did it really go on forever or just in your head?

    Im the same, I dont know how I can really like hills and trail and really hate xc.

    1. That's actually a really good tip! You're definitely a shoe-losing pro!! The race was only 4 miles but it really did feel as though it took FOREVER. Stupid Cross Country!! :)