A few months back, Advent Running founders Claudia and James announced that they were putting together a Cross Country team to compete in the Surrey League – who was in?
I registered immediately, not because I love Cross Country (I’d never done it before, despite having gone to middle school in the countryside), or because I’m an avid off road racer (never raced off road before and I live smack bang in the centre of London). All of the blogs I’ve read about XC made it sound really hard. All of the photos I’d seen made it look even harder.
So why bother?
Basically, I signed up because I’m a pretty shy and very bog standard runner who made a promise to be more involved with the social side of running (what’s more social than being part of a team?)and who is determined to get stronger and I'd heard many phrases based around marathon bodies being built at Cross Country.
I raced in three of the four fixtures available and went through an entire spectrum of experiences; possibly the best race of my life (Nonsuch Park), definitely the worst race of my life (Lloyd Park) and a race where the conditions were so awful I couldn’t believe it was actually happening (sideways snow and shoe-stealing mud at the perversely named Happy Valley Park).
|Lulled into a false sense of security at fixture 1|
And so I made it through my first XC season alive. It was truly some of the toughest running I’ve done so far but I’m already chomping at the bit for next season. Here are some of the things I loved and I’ve learned about XC. Maybe if you’re thinking about giving it a go but are a bit nervous, this will help you make up your mind.
Running off-road is amazing.
As a pavement pounder by trade, I can’t fully describe the feeling of liberation you get running through mud and grass and snow. It really is like an adventure. In XC I let myself do something I don’t normally do, I trusted my footwear and let myself go on the downhills – wow! And although it feels ten times harder and my pace took a battering on some of the more challenging courses, the softer ground helped my legs recover faster than if I’d put in the same effort on road.
|There WILL be mud|
Being on a team pushes you in ways you never thought possible.
When racing solo, it’s easy to forgive yourself for not pushing the pace. The monotony can take its toll and at the end of the day, you’re going to get your medal and goodie bag regardless. Running on a team, wanting to do your best for them and knowing other people have your back gave me such a push. It pushed me to a pace I’d never ventured near before in a race in the first fixture; it prevented me from DNFing for the first time ever at the second fixture and made the simple act of turning up to run in Narnia-esque conditions for the final race doable.
Cheering is a team task all on its own.
It’s fair to say that our team took its cheering very seriously indeed. Cowbells, triangles, maracas, vuvuzelas, yelling, clapping and even talk of a clarinet. We had it going on. I’m not usually someone who lets myself go but every time one of our guys flew past in the men’s races I went to I absolutely roared my head off.
And when you’re struggling through a hard patch there’s nothing quite like reaching the top of that hill or turning that corner and have familiar voices shouting your name and telling you to push because, when you thought there was no push left, man alive that helps you find it.
I was quite worried that I’d be out of my depths, both in my own team and among the other club runners. I was never going to be bothering the super toned girls up front, wearing little more than knickers and crop top and it was unlikely that I was going to score for our team of boss ladies. I imagined that if you came a cropper in your race that you’d be left to fend for yourself as hordes of XC Valkyries went stampeding by.
What I didn’t expect was the warm welcome we received from the League organisers or from the other teams. I certainly hadn’t thought I’d be seeing people I knew and chatting with people I’d never met before. I cheered for and was encouraged along by people on other teams. When I was experiencing my lowest point in fixture three, lots of people asked if I was ok. Everyone is in the same boat. Everyone is on the same start line.
Cake. There is some unwritten law in Cross Country that no race can be left unaccompanied by cake. If there is no cake you will be escorted from the venue by armed police and instantly disqualified.*
After the third fixture my friend Ben said something I wish I had known before the first race “Cross Country is not something that’s supposed to be enjoyed until it’s over.” This may sound a bit arse about face but it’s absolutely true. It wasn’t easy but it has been an absolute blast and a huge learning curve. I sent my mum a photo to show her how tough Happy Valley Park looked and she replied “At least you look like you’re enjoying yourself”.
|'Enjoying' myself with Claire W|
Thank you James and Claudia for going out of your way to get this going and get us through it. Massive congrats to our boys for being promoted in their first season, and to all the ladies who ‘lurked menacingly’ in division 4. Taking fourth place among these other clubs is nothing to be scoffed at and I’m so proud of what we achieved together.
Roll on October 2017! I might even break out the short shorts...
*This ‘may’ not be true but, to be on the safe side, make sure there is cake.
(ALL PHOTOS FROM THE ARXC ALBUMS - TAP ME UP FOR CREDITS)