Cross country, Singleton Park 2011

2011-12-04, , Comments

Sunday 4th December was the 3rd of 5 league cross county fixtures at home in Singleton Park where all the ideal cross country ingredients were available, rain, hail, long steep hills and thick muddy bogs, very many congratulations to everyone who competed on one of the toughest cross country courses around. —

Gwent League cross country, December 2011, Singleton Park Swansea

Not many Swansea Harriers had turned out for the previous Gwent League event, held a month ago in Bath, and team manager Kevin Corcoran expected a good showing for today’s event — a home fixtur in Singleton Park. The going will be heavy, his email said, bring spikes!

Certainly we’d help boost the numbers. Alex would be racing his first race for the club, the novice boys at 12:06, to be followed immediately by Isobel in the U13 girls at 12:15. The Senior men’s race — me! — wouldn’t start until 14:50. Because of the time gaps and the wintry weather Gail decided to drive the kids, getting there in time to register and then head back with them as soon as they’d run. I’d travel independently by bike: a good way to warm up and cool down, I reckoned.

Rain spat as I started my journey. A fresh wind pushed clouds across the sky. Half an hour later I pedalled through the crowded car park at Bishop Gore school, locked my bike to the railings, then made my way to the club tent. Take it slowly to start with, I told Alex, save something for the finish. He doesn’t have running spikes and I had suggested he wore his rugby boots, but he wanted to wear his trainers. He doesn’t have a club vest either and was wearing a thermal top. There he stood, black top, black shorts, anxious, ready to go.

The route starts with a climb then loops around the park back to the start and climbs again to the finish. He was going well. Dan turned up with Fynn, Cai and Schnorbie. We cheered, Alex responded, passing four people at speed on the final muddy climb. Rain slashed down in a sudden squall. He crossed the line, exhausted, breathless, on the verge of tears. I wanted to get to him and get him warm and dry but he had to follow the finish-line protocol: waiting in line to collect his token, waiting again to hand it over to the team manager.

We bundled Alex into the tent and pulled dry clothes over the top of his wet muddy kit. It had been a tough race for him. Isobel’s race had already started — two laps for her. She was in trouble on the first climb, looking to us, shaking her head. She’s pulled out, Gail said. What? Never! Isobel’s already an experienced runner: she knows how to pace herself. But it was true, she was walking back, in tears.

I couldn’t breathe, she said. You’re not cross with me?

Of course not. I hugged her.

We made our way back to the car. I reassured Isobel. It happened. Now you know, and you’ll know what to do next time. It won’t happen again.

We don’t make her go to harriers, it’s her choice — what she wants to do — but the club insists its members compete. It’s not about keeping fit. One of the novice girls had lost a shoe, it stuck in the mud at the start, and she’d run up the hill wearing one shoe and carrying the other, had her footwear refitted, and gone on to finish, gaining points for her team.

My family had gone now. Two and a half hours until my race. I was wearing several layers of clothing and all of them were damp. The rain had stopped but the wind was tugging more clouds our way. My fingers and toes were cold. I walked the route. Downhill, the ground was waterlogged. The map showed the route fording something described as a spring, and what I’d pictured as clear running water turned out to be a trench overflowing with viscous mud.

I stopped to talk with a couple of marshals who stood dressed like fishermen in the middle of the park. They explained the route to me in some detail. There’d been a fault with the original version of the map, the one I’d seen online. It said the senior men would run three medium loops and one full one but we’d actually be running one medium loop and three full ones. The course could have been simplified, they thought, joining points together and eliminating whole sections. They could have overlapped events and had more than one group out at once. The U15 girls race had started now, and the marshals trudged into position.

Back at the start line I queued for a cup of tea from the Licensed to Grill van. It wasn’t hot enough or strong enough but it warmed my fingers. I ate a banana and one of the welsh cakes I’d packed. A mobile shoe shop had set itself up near the start line. My feet are short and wide. They had a good selection of of cross country spikes and the Adidas ones fitted perfectly.

cross country spikes

I ran a short warm up with a couple of others then got changed. I wondered if Ifan was coming? At last the race started. I ran eagerly along the top section then let gravity lengthen my stride downhill. Oh, there he was, just in front. I checked myself slightly. Plenty of time to accelerate later.

Spikes feel different to the trail shoes I’m used to: lighter, less stable. Faster? Maybe.

Try and find firmer ground. Take muddy corners wide. Run closer to foliage — being shorter, I can duck under the tagged branches. Up and downhill I do better. I could improve on the flat and through mud.

Chris Fulcher came past at speed on the final lap but I couldn’t follow him. I was locked into my pace and my group and there I stayed.

I went to congratulate Ifan who’d finished 22nd. I was happy with 45th. They were filming him for some Vets 24/7 program which BBC Wales will screen next year. I did hear them ask, if he was a veteran runner and a veteranarian, did that make him a vet vet?

I returned to the tent and ate another welsh cake pulling layers of clothing back on. My lined cycling gloves are a real struggle to put on when damp. Rain hammered down. Cars queued to leave Bishop Gore car park. One which had parked on the field spun its wheels in the mud.