Aykley Heads XC – 18th November 2017

Thanks to Ann-Marie Shield for the following race report:

My first Wednesday run with Ponteland runners everyone was going on about the start of the cross country season coming up, “its great fun and the hot chocolate and cakes more than make up for the mud”… hmmmm I wasn’t convinced. Mud plus cold plus hills did not sound very fun and I thought everyone was plain crazy! I certainly didn’t think 2 months later I would be rocking up to Aykley heads with spikes in hand ready to run.

I’m not sure what changed my mind-maybe the promise of eating cake without feeling guilty or maybe everyone’s excitement and encouragement/support in improving runs-it made me want to get involved-no matter how much the thought of mud and hills put me off. So I bought my first pair of spikes and found the first race I could make – Aykley heads in Durham. On the lead up to the day I heard the following said about the course, “the hardest course of the season”, “that’s the one with the never ending hill” and my favorite to scare me the most… “my husband threatened me with divorce for signing him up” (thanks Tina!).

So with the fear of god about this nightmare course firmly in place I made sure I had a lift so I couldn’t back out and run off scared. It was the girls turn to bake the cakes so I made my favorite lemon drizzle cake to look forward to after the race. Packed lots of warm clothing for after the race in case it was a mud bath and set off for Durham with Abby Dorani.

After a quick change into the spikes and a warm up jog -the time came and the girls set off to the start, a delay to the junior race meant we were standing in the cold for ages-prolonging the anxiety of the start and hills. Finally we were called forward and the starting pistol fired, the first part of the course wasn’t bad-we were on the flat and then down hills. I did that classic mistake of starting too fast until the pack spaced out a little. There was lots of cow bells and spectators shouting for their runners and Marshals offering encouragement as we went past.

I have never ran cross country-not even at school and this was my first time in spikes so I was a little cautious of going down the steep hills while the other girls went flying past me looking like Phoebe Buffay from Friends, looking back at my Strava I definitely ran too slow down the down hill sections so maybe there is something to that technique!

The course was little (ish) ups and down hills till you near the end of the first lap-then the most horrendous hill climb starts. Its relentless it goes on for an age-then just when you think its over and there must be a flat or downhill section to recover, you go around the corner and then there is such a steep hill to finish you off. For anyone that has strava-check out the segment name for this section-it’s very aptly named!! A lot of people were walking up the last part, having completely given up-but I always have the mentality in runs if I stop then I’ll not get going again-so I tried to power through it-overtaking a few girls walking on the way. I get to the top then Abby runs past me and my heart sinks-I thought I had been lapped! Then I remember she started with the fast pack, although that doesn’t make me feel any quicker!

The start of the 2nd lap I sort of knew what was ahead which was both good and bad! On a downhill section I heard “Go Ponteland” shouts from the guys cheering us on before their race-this was probably the only time I smiled on the course-hearing friendly encouragement. I started to feel like I was running on empty after mile 3-only the thoughts of cake getting me through this last mile. I knew when I was approaching that last relentless hill so I mentally prepared myself for it-but completely forgot about the extra last part of the hill-from the groans around me so did a few others. At the top of that hill the finish was insight and as I had followed a Saltwell harrier most the way round the 2nd lap-I engaged in a battle she wasn’t aware she was participating in for the sprint finish. I happily (stretching the truth) whizzed past her with my Mo Farrah style kick (admittedly my kick speed is his slow jogging possibly even walking speed-but it’s a kick for me). I met up with the other Ponteland ladies and waited for the others to finish. I was 7th Ponteland runner or 3rd last if your glass half full or half empty. I can totally see why cake and hot chocolate are a necessity for cross country-I literally had nothing else to give and was very thankful I didn’t have to do a third lap like the guys.

A few cakes later the ladies went out to support the guys and take photos for their 3 lap run. The guys looked really quick with some strong finishes on the last straight. It had been quite a dry lead up to the race so the ground wasn’t churned up to badly for the guys. I had heard it’s been a mudbath in past years with the last hill people on their hands and knees.

Checking out our results online I got a time of 40:13 and the ladies first team finished in 4th place, for Division 3 moving them up to 2nd in the overall league. The guy’s team finished in 5th position with some really quick times, this moves them up to 6th place in division 3.

I am completely undecided on if I enjoyed it or not but -Like one of the guys said to me, whether I enjoyed it or not, I certainly endured it! After looking at my Strava I’m already wanting to re run it to try and improve my time-so onwards to the next race in January!

Guess I need to place myself in that group I called crazy 2 months ago!