Aside from another middle-aged text speak blunder (calling it cross-x a few times on social media this week) I felt well prepared for my debut on the grass yesterday as I set off with The Boy for the Renfrewshire X-Country Championships at St Columbas High School in Gourock yesterday: new studs purchased, my wallet emptied further for a speedy harriers vest and a bag full of energy replenishing foods.
Nagging doubts about finishing dead last were heightened on the journey to Gourock as we were diverted and got lost several times giving more time for The Boy and Paul to build the tension with stories of horrific conditions and leg-sapping routes. Throw in lashings of rain on the drive down and the senior race being the final run of the day I was frequently told that the course was sure to be churned up adding to the challenge.
It’s worth pointing out at this point that my only previous x-country experience had been as a spectator at the Nationals last week at Bellahouston – a 4k sprint – so I was a little surprised to find out we’d be running over 5 miles, even worse it was a 5 lap course. I hate lap courses.
So within two weeks of ‘trying’ a training session at Bellahouston I’d found myself lined up alongside experienced runners including loads of familiar faces from mass participation road races (usually the folks you see coming back the other way on out and back courses while your still heading for the turn) including my former colleague Christina Rankin (Kilbarchan) – regular podium topper on the Scottish Hill Running circuit. Oh and Derek Hawkins was running – yeh the guy from the Commonwealth Games.
An actual gun went off which scared the b-jee-sus out of me. I don’t know if this happens regularly at races as despite being a seasoned runner I’m usually so far back from the start line the first I know about the start is when the heels in front of me start inching forward.
Approaching the first corner the smell of the gun filled by lungs as I gasped for breath, position and footing on the mud. And then the course opened up in front of me. Up and down, absolutely no flat, plenty of mud and lots of vocal support from the Harriers coaches, friends and families. And then we were still running – not back at the school for lap 2 yet. So a wee bit more. Up and down, still no flat in site and even more mud but at least there was still lots of vocal support out on the course.
There were plenty areas to catch a view of the lead pack as the route snaked it’s way around the grounds of the school and then I remembered my bet with The Boy – the pints were on him if he didn’t lap me twice / on me if he did.
Round the tower and the perimeter of the football pitch and I recognised the start / finish area marking 1/5th of the race. I was ready for chucking it at this point but realising I’d started off a little bit too hard I eased off the pace a little and settled into a rhythm at the start of the second lap. My motivation is to get a strong winter of structured training under my belt and events like this will hopefully help me become a sub-40min 10k runner next year.
Well none of that was in my head. My heart was thumping and every hill seemed harder to scale than the first lap. And then I rounded one of the gentler corners and hit the deck. This was when I could happily have walked of the course and hit the showers before beating the queue at the 50p per item buffet in the canteen but I somehow found the motivation to get back on my feet and plough on…. that sub 40min 10k in 2016?
No way – it was my bet with The Boy! So I picked myself out the swamp and continued to plod up and down, no flat, through the mud, cheered on like a superstar by the Harriers support crew lap after lap. And it actually got easier. There were no Road Runners around to take down – the only pre-race advice I’d been given by Paul C – so I engaged in my own personal battle with a runner from Kilbarchan.
Towards the end of my fourth lap I was lapped by Derek Hawkins and then the guys in 2nd to 5th place but I made it to the finish / start area for my final lap without being passed once by The Boy. Result 🙂 Unfortunately I still had a lap to run. So head down I passed a couple of runners and managed to round the hairpin at the football pitch for the first time without veering dangerously off course before crossing the line in 41minutes.
A great experience and I’ve already signed up to the next race in the series at Bellahouston in December.
As for the pints – I’m still waiting. Thanks to The Boy – not for persuading me to run my first x-country but for heading over to Dunoon with me after the race to help with The Dunoon Hill Runners annual quiz. A great way to finish the day – over £800 raised for two great local charities and a great day out for The Runbetweeners.