Tales of cross country and trail half marathon

Posted on: 17 Mar 2019

I’ll start where I finished last time with an update on the fate of Paul.  I still haven’t seen him but did see his name in the list of finishers of a cycle event the following Sunday so he must have finished the run in one piece!

Last time on here I was setting off to run my first cross country race since 2013.  This long gap was purely by choice.  I remember running cross country at school and joining in with everyone complaining about how awful it was, however I perversely used to secretly quite like it but as a teenage boy it was better to follow peer pressure and try to skive off.

As an adult I have tried XC just three times and each time I didn’t really enjoy the pressure of racing.  I can’t explain why as I like racing on a track where there is nowhere to hide and the pressure is far more intense.

The County AAA Masters (old people) champs were held jointly with Middx AAA , they were the hosts this year and the venue was Trent Park which I think is in the London Borough of Enfield but would have been North Middx back in the day.

I stood towards the back of the field at the start, I was not there to win any prizes (in fact the club didn’t have much of a presence due to the race coinciding with the Berkhamsted half marathon) and set off somewhat slowly cursing the sodden field as my feet sank.  As we neared the second lap of the field I looked back and could see a few runners behind me, I had prepared myself to face the prospect of finishing last today, and wondered if they would all catch and then overtake me.

Out of the field and into a wooded section, a downhill which was a gravel path and my spikes were making a right old noise as they crunched the stones.  Before I knew it there was a small brook to leap over, then a small wooden bridge to negotiate followed by a muddy hill.  This was keeping my mind busy working out the best way to tackle the course.  A downhill followed at which point the rain started, coming at me sideways in the blustery wind.  I smiled and laughed to myself.  This was what XC was all about and I was actually enjoying it.  Two laps of the woods with the streams to negotiate, uphills, downhills and lots of wet mud followed before finally back to the original field and the run to the finish.  As I rounded the corner into the finish straight a fellow Strider that had already finished me urged me to catch the runner in front.  I could see a white vest ahead and set off but didn’t make any progress as it was like running in treacle the ground was so wet and soft.  My effort though meant I had loads of people shouting at me.  ‘That’s great encouragement’ I thought.  Then a guy waving a clipboard ran out in front.  ‘Keep left’ he was shouting.  And so was everyone else!  The finish was divided into two funnels, one for each county.  In my pursuit of the white vest I was heading towards the Middx finish line, I veered left at the last moment to everyone’s relief.  I guess that as it was a chip timed event I would have messed up the results!  I thought I didn’t recognise a white vest anyway, turns out it’s Ealing Eagles so I wasn’t in the same race as the guy I tried to catch anyway.

My hamstring wasn’t too sore, I wasn’t last either so a good enjoyable run was my verdict.  

One thing that is keeping my running together at the moment is KT tape.  It’s holding my hamstring together and really does seem to make a difference.  I continued the ice and heat alternate treatment as soon as I got home.  This too seems to be helping the recovery after each run.

The following Sunday was the Harpenden Half marathon, my duty as lead bike!

The two recce rides I had made were done in warm, sunny and dry conditions so obviously the weather gods were going to play a trick on me.  It had poured with rain the night before and then the wind got up just before the start of the race. so strong that the tents and gazebos that formed the race village were getting blown away.  Part of the course was tree lined (it’s a trail race) and some of the branches that were coming off of the trees were dangerously big.

I took up a position at the bottom of the hill in the park where I would pick up the lead runners after the initial lap of the park.  I could see the runners at the top of the hill gathered around and thought that maybe the race director was delaying the start or even abandoning the event.  I would have if it was me, it was quite unsafe.  The trees that were just ahead were still losing bits.  The runners all went to the start line though, the start arch had been decimated by the wind and was lying in a heap.

The race started though and soon the lead runners were heading towards me.  They needed to follow the yellow markers to go uphill and then back down to where I was waiting.  It went wrong!  The lead runners missed the markers and ran up where they should have been running down.  Someone then pointed them in the right direction and they turned and ran back into the runners that were following them.  Chaos in the making!  The lead runner then darted through the trees and ran down the path that he should have been following me up!  I managed to cycle in front of him and turned him around, the guy in second place followed.  Now I was lead bike but not in the lead!  I had to battle uphill against the wind to try and keep up.  The portaloos were scattered all over the path ahead, the wind had blown them over!  More on that later.  Off the path and I was now cycling up the steepest part of the hill in wet mud.  The runner in third place overtook me.  This was going horribly wrong.

I just could not go any faster in the mud and I was bursting my lungs just to keep moving.

Finally I hit tarmac and the tyres could grip, it was downhill too so I was able to finally get ahead.  

This was not going to be an easy task I thought.  I needed to make sure that I kept a longer than normal gap between me and the runners as there was plenty more wet and muddy sections ahead.

After all the drama it settled down and I was able to keep ahead, even though at one point the headwind combined with wet mud meant that I had to get off and push my bike in order to keep moving forward, glancing over my shoulder all the while hoping that the lead runner was far enough behind.

It was a tough old race due to the weather, it was also my hardest time as a lead marshal of a race so well done to all those that finished.

Back to the portaloos I mentioned earlier.  When one gust of wind turned one over there was an unfortunate lady inside.  She emerged with her head covered in the blue chemical and was quickly collected by the medic team.  They cleaned her up and said that she would need to go to A&E as she had been doused in chemicals.  She refused.  She not only started the race but went on to win it finishing as first lady over the line!  No wonder she wasn’t going to be put off easily.

Here's what happens when you forget to attach a rear mudguard!

My marathon preparations are still just about on track, I have now managed an 18 mile run and have a 20 mile race next weekend.

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