Having run a whopping THREE cross countries I can hardly class myself as a ‘vet’ or any form of expert. But it has given me a taster and I think I ‘get it’ now. If you are thinking of giving it a go then this is what I made of it…
My first experience has been pretty well documented already, so I shall not repeat myself… But I do wonder if the Turkey made it to January. I am almost inclined to go visit the place just to find out! And it’s true that I had quite a lot of misgivings and in my own inimitable way made a stupid amount of fuss about the whole thing!
The first race was North Herts: hard to find, parked seemingly miles away, got changed in a barn, lots of food, course was OK but not that interesting to run around. In fact I would say that there is just as good (if not better here in Olney). I particularly didn’t rate the ‘out and back’ part, which meant that depressingly the leading runners ran past me on their way back as I was still plodding on my way out. But I chatted to a lot of people (whilst I was supposed to be running / racing) and had a jolly fine morning out! Despite chatting 51:58 with a pace of 5:55 /km
Next up was Ampthill. A very different proposition in that it was horribly cold and windy, coupled with a few short sharp hills and some deceptive (to me anyway) terrain to race round. Lovely setting though with some beautiful views out over the Marston Vale. This venue was much easier to find, conveniently with parking in the same county. No Turkey or farm yard which was a bit of a disappointment, but they did decide to play an entertaining game of ‘see how many runners you can cram into a tiny hall’… Most entertaining was the never ending queue for the outside port-a-loos whilst the warm clean indoor facilities remained mainly undiscovered! Again a vast supply of very lovely post race food and a really warm and friendly banter. This time I really did spend time chatting on my way round and was only one step away from needing to take a picnic I was so long going round the course! My time was a very poor 50:03 with a pace of 6:18 /km
And finally the BIG ONE, Wootton hosted by my home club (or at least was first claim at the time). So of course I am biased… But it was a superb event!! Lots parking and a venue that could easily hold the number of people. Even better we had showers, so quite different to the barns of North Herts. The recurring theme of copious food… The actual start was some way (maybe a mile or so) from the HQ. I chose to have a little jog to warm up. Others chose to moan. Each to their own… I guess their attitude and mouths would have been warm at the start! The course was somewhere between the two previous ones, not as hilly as Ampthill and maybe more interesting than North Herts. Definitely the muddiest but even so it was fine in my cheap trail shoes. I chatted less and ran more (mostly because too many people had dined out on finishing faster than me at Ampthill… As if that is any great achievement but still!). This time I was putting some effort in and beyond the ‘pace of chat’. Just the odd grunt really. So for my final XC in the series: a slightly better 48:52 with a pace of 5:50/km
Will my trial shoes get used again? YES… (and for those that care, the picture is them AFTER three races, but having been given the toothbrush treatment). This is a completely different experience to the dreaded school XC. Even though that is obvious really, just the words CROSS COUNTRY conjures up bad memories. And of course the irony of now paying to do something that years ago you would do ANYTHING to avoid.
If you have never done it, then just it give it a go. It felt a world apart from a Tri event… Which frankly can be quite intimidating the first few times as everyone seems to know what they are doing, you can’t move for flashy equipment and the RULES are never ending. Only second to the equally gigantic and never ending ego’s. Cross Country is the polar opposite! It almost has an underground, grass routes, rustic feel to it (could a cram any more puns in!!)… But my overarching memory was just how friendly everyone was and made me feel so welcome. There were some VERY fast people and some VERY slow people and it didn’t matter a jot. It was completely non-judgemental and everyone was just there to have a good time. Imagine a slightly longer, slightly hillier version of a Park Run and you won’t be far off imagining how ‘safe’ it feels. (Don’t for Christ sake take a buggy though… It is a bit more serious than that!!).
There are no medals… But actually it would be ‘wrong’ if there were. Instead you get a cheese roll and some cake. Lots of cake. And a cup of tea. You don’t need a medal.
I might be biased, but I do have to say that the Wootton spread was the best though – so if you know your cake then next year make sure you run their Cross Country!! 😉