Mud, puddles, teeth gritting and sheer thrill – cross country season is upon us, and I’m relishing every moment of it, no matter how tough. I savour this time in the running calendar, when the end to the athletics season is met with the starkly contrasting cross country courses. Both can be brutal, punishing. But deeply rewarding.
By this point in the running calendar, I must admit to feeling a slight sense of relief. It’s goodbye to the monotonous nature of the track racing season in favour of the winding, testing cross country races awaiting to be endured this season. And oh boy am I pumped.
I feel cross country is somewhat less harshly competitive compared to athletics. Results are presented a little less brashly; each runner has survived quite the challenge, and wouldn’t we rather marvel over the battles we just faced than focus on how many milliseconds we managed to shave off a few laps around a track?!
In the world of athletics, post-race, you’re numbered, told times then ordered from fastest to slowest. Whereas when you cross the finish line following a testing XC race, you feel like you all fought through it together and you’ve really achieved something.
Perhaps it’s the longer distances, or the differing courses. There’s something about that post XC feeling – soaked, caked with mud, lungs screaming. Piling into the toasty minibus for the drive home. Utter satisfaction.
Talking of mud, extreme weather – in my opinion – only makes it more fun. The team piled out of the minibus for the first race of the season only to be smacked in the face with lashings of rain. Pre-race can be the worst. Cold, wet, shivering, wondering quite when to warm-up, watching the course grow more lethal as the rain pounds its muddy twists and turns. But as soon as that gun goes, it’s utter adventure and thrill. That race was a total mud bath, but all the more fun because of it.
However sometimes you don’t need to rely on the weather to add the danger into a race; the course is challenging enough as it is. Race no.2 exposed a major weakness in my running: hills. At the meer utterance of the word my very quads begin to quake. Almost the entire race we were either trekking up sharp inclines, or thundering down them, letting our legs unravel as fast as we dare. Of course there was the mud and rain, but the horrendous climbs on that course added a whole other dimension to the race.
That’s the beauty of cross country; so many factors mould each race into the unique battle it becomes. Some races are tougher than others, and I’ve got to admit that pre-race when I’m stood shivering in a boggy field, I really do wonder what on earth I’m forcing myself through. But the team spirit, twisting and turning through mud-ridden courses, facing a battle and getting stuck into it – all make it worthwhile. Cross country certainly is a rewarding sport. A unique mixture of challenge and adventure. I love it.