Heading out of Wales on Friday for a race up north, I kept recalling in my head a conversation between Nina and our neighbour, Anne…
Nina: With weather like this our friends will all think we live in paradise
Anne: Well maybe you do
I am lucky enough to have visited some of the most beautiful places in the world but I can honestly say nowhere is better than here in the sunshine. Whereas the Himalayas are undoubtedly the most spectacular mountains in the world, they are remote and foreboding. The green slopes of Snowdonia with their silver streams and mirror lakes are like old friends, kind and inviting.
This would be Nina’s first time alone in Gelli, so while I really enjoyed my Friday night in my hotel room with it’s TV, Light Switches, Kettle, Central Heating, Flushing Toilet and Hot Shower, it was bitter sweet for I knew Nina was back in the cold darkness without me. I climbed into my warm dry double bed still wearing my hat out of habit, I joyfully threw it off when I remembered I wouldn’t need it!
The English Cross Country Champs is the oldest existing Cross Country in the world. Thousands of runners and spectators converge on some godforsaken fields each winter for an afternoon of madness. There were 2 inches of snow lying in wait for us, and after 9 races and thousands of runners before us, any semblance of decent underfoot had long been trudged into a swamp of freezing wet mud.
The senior men go last and for longest (12km). I arrived from the warmth of my hotel as late as I could, and didn’t even jog round the course before the start in an attempt to keep my feet from going numb. This decision cost me in the late stages of the race especially seeing as my feet went numb anyway.
The scene is pretty otherworldly, nowhere to sit down or get out of the cold, just mud and snow as far as the eye can see. Having to stand around in the cold is bad, but stripping down to vest and shorts is worse.
The start was typically manic, and it is was hard to keep my heart from racing as a thousand men all around me were sprinting for their lives and mud was being thrown into my face as if by the gallon. You can see a video of the impressive start below, I know the last video I posted was abit rubbish, but this one is better, go straight to the middle of the timeline if you want to cut to the chase.
The race was three laps but each one seemed longer than the last as my legs got more tired and the ground more muddy. The final lap was the most fun as we began lapping runners (even some women from the previous race) and they were occupying the least worst route. I had decided before the race that I would make my move from the turn off at the end of the last lap until the finish. But it looked a lot longer on the course map and in reality was only about 400m, costing me at least a few places. I crossed the line full of running which was confusing as this was one of the hardest, ugliest races I’ve ever run.
The only thing more painful than the race itself was what came afterwards, which can only be described as pure misery. We all had to stand out in the swamp and try to remove our filthy running vests and spikes. Everybody had sensibly double and triple knotted their laces so to avoid losing them in the quagmire. But now, with numb fingers and arms, the frozen laces were nearly impossible to undo. With legs stiff and aching, even bending down to reach shoes was extremely painful. We were cursing and shivering and howling throughout this process. Once that slice of funtime was over and we managed to pull on some less soaked layers, we then had the English traditions of queuing, and waiting for a bus, to uphold. All cars had to be parked miles away to prevent their getting stuck in the mud. I have never entered a hot shower with so much anticipation. I loved every minute of it, even the stinging sensation of blood slowly crawling back into my toes. One of which I thought had got frostbite as it was purple, but I decided it hurt far too much to be dead. I left that shower room in a disgraceful state but at the time I could not have cared less as we headed out to Nandos. I was safely tucked up in bed by 11pm while most of Kent AC stayed out to celebrate our highest ever team finish.
Performance of the weekend goes to my mate John, who had run a blinderin the race coming 10th, then stayed out till 2am and was still strong enough to get up at 8am on Sunday and run 18 miles with me (fast). I was very interested to see what he ordered for breakfast. 2000 calories of full English, a pint of apple juice, and a pint of Guiness. My hero.
In 2012 when I attempted the National I collapsed to the ground with only 2km remaining. I would have stayed lying there groaning with stomach pain, but for the spectators who threatened to call an ambulance, so I stumbled to my feet and finished in 408th position. This year was my best ever performance and an improvement of 370 places on last time, 38th in England is not bad.
It was a fantastic and mad weekend and great to catch up with the team. It was lovely getting back to Nina who had the house all tidy and welcoming. I brought her back a Kitkat Chunky for being a great girl, who says romance is dead!
Don’t think it hasn’t been exciting for me too. Russell paints a picture of dutiful servitude and housework. But I tell you, there was a lot more going on for me this weekend. First of all, on walking back from the toilet, me and nearby sheep clocked eyes and before we knew it, we were in a stare off. Like seriously. Neither of us would back down. It was the sheep and me, and a bunch of Welsh hills and fields. And I was trapped. And then another sheep trotted out from behind a tumbling stone wall and locked me into a second stare off. I thought I could handle it, but a third sheep trotted out, and I was seriously outnumbered. ‘Where are they all coming from?’ I thought to myself. Having 3 pairs of eyes on me was starting to freak me out. I gave in and I’m not ashamed. I went back in the house to make a hot water bottle and warm my hands.
That brings me on neatly to the other news. It has been a special kind of cold out here. Take you mind off the ball for a moment and your hands feel like they’re going to fall off. Russell’s sisters gave me a foot warmer for Christmas, an ingenious contraption of cushion, foot holes, and hot water bottle. This made an important debut on Saturday night, along with my body warmer, coat, hat and gloves… to bed. And there’s Russell going on about frost bite in a hotel room – honestly, one mini break and he’s gone soft. Also I went hill training, Sunday long run, and cleaned out the tool shed. I’m a modern woman in the 1800s