Sat 26th Sept – Cross Country Race 1 – Tanfield

I’ve never really ran since school prior to joining the club this year and the only time mud has come near me is in a face pack or maybe a little on my wellies at a farm with my little boy.

So it’s fair to say I was a little nervous when we arrived at Tanfield – literally a field with tents and hundreds of people in club vests which always scares me as this means they are “proper runners”.

We tracked down our club tent and met Jon who was sorting everyone’s numbers- he looked for me on the list but I spotted my name “Helen O’Neil- slow” – that’s actually what it said! I mean I don’t proclaim to be anything else but I thought it was a bit harsh to have it typed up on the registration list! Anyway I saw the other girls I knew from the club and got sidetracked into a very important decision about port-a-loo queue vs find a bush so off we trotted (obviously we went for the ladylike option).

We noticed a warm up route that had been set up- firstly my brain can’t digest why people would want to run in advance of the actual race? I respect this dedication but I needed to save every ounce of energy I had.

I saw the cakes and hot drinks being unpacked and had last minute thoughts about making up an injury to get out of it and just being a spectator but we were all in it together (about 8 of us newby girls) so we headed down for the start of the ladies race. Sue (experienced cross country guru) explains as we walk that we are in the slow section with the majority meaning we all go off first (ah so glad this explains my slow label).  We were warned not to get right at the front as some clubs get a bit competitive and we might get squished, elbowed or even pulled out the way as they come past! What? I only had 2 objectives 1) get round the 2 laps without falling on my face and 2) burn enough calories to have whatever I wanted at the cocktail evening I was off to that night.  We moved to the side ready to start as a pack- safety in numbers and all that!

The gun went off and we headed up a very muddy incline, the old nike trainers kept me upright but I was wishing I had spikes or something with a bit more grip as it was very slippy but we were soon on the flat and it was starting to space out a little. Now I won’t write this saying I loved every minute as anyone who knows me will know this is total lies. I hate most of it- everything hurting, trying to gasp for air, going bright red and having a runny nose as people try and take pictures of you? I tried to focus on the positives: the fresh air and nature, the kids that were out in the woods shouting their family and friends on and not an iPad in site. I’m thinking how this sort of thing is what I want Saturdays to be about when my little boy is older and just then I realised I was starting to come down a hill to a giant mud trench and everyone was trudging straight through it just to save time from going round it? I followed Victoria (who I’d been running behind for a while but neither of us could talk!) I  knew she would have a plan and id follow her. Nope she went straight through it as I got closer I realised there were no other options so jumped right in, calves submerged and splashing cold muddy water right up my legs.

My feet squidged for the first few steps afterwards but I realised I kind of liked it- I imagined us doing a tough mudder challenge like if seen on TV or something really ridiculous and thinking actually it’s not that random if I consider what I would have thought about me doing something like this a year ago! We started another gentle hill but this one wasn’t so bad as it was downhill after that and I could hear all the lads who had arrived for their race next cheering us on.  I briefly managed a thumbs up and a happy face as I ran past then took off for lap 2.  Lap 2 was easier- i knew what to expect and got excited to splash people more on my next trip through the mud trench.  The thinking gets quite deep when I run- I remember pondering whether I had chosen the right career representing fairness and equality in an HR role when I knew the boys had to do 3 laps and we only had to do 2! Nope I felt smugly happy about that.

I took my time trying to just keep running and not walk- plenty of people were walking up the hills by now and it always looks so tempting! I saved a little bit for a Helen sprint at the end- I knew a good few were ahead of me and was worried about the cake situation.  Then rest was standard – feel sick, can’t even walk, forgot to stop my garmin, the usual.

Then the magic happened and I still don’t understand how these endorphins work. After talking about how horrific the race was and how much I hated it for approximately 7 minutes afterwards I then completely transition.  Now it helps that by this time I have a snugly warm jumper on, a cup of coffee, a brownie and some amazing cheesecake in my hand but it’s like my mind forgets the pain and I now am laughing and joking with the other girls about how much fun it was!  (Kind of like forgetting the pain of childbirth but you know your going to get great sleep too!)

The lads then went off to do their race and the girls (aged between 24-54 I would say) then decided we were 16 year old cheer leaders whooping and shouting at the boys – for all 3 laps.  They loved it really. That’s all I’ll say about that.

By this point I knew I had completely forgotten the pain of out race and was having good crack with the rest of the ladies team- some I had just met for the first time but I knew then that I would be doing the rest of the season. Although note to self to buy some cheap spikes and bring spare shoes and I think it will be even better.  The results? I achieved both of my objectives and more.

There was no inappropriate banter and certainly no-one accidentally tried on anyone else’s clothes. We then all got straight out of the car park without delay.

Ok some of that last bit is not factually correct but what happens in cross country stays at cross country!