Posts Tagged With: Racing TNT Triathlon Team

Cross country round two: an acquired taste? Taking on Penistone XC in the fine and fabulous company of TNTers

Digested read: well I did go forth, but didn’t really conquer the XC at Penistone in any meaningful way. Still, showed my face, that’s the main thing.

I’m not sure if this post is more reminiscent of a dog returning to it’s vomit or a bee revisiting a favourite flowering shrub, but whichever you choose I have to ‘fess up this isn’t a freshly written post.  Due to lack of internet (yawn) since 6th November, I’m writing this post on 19th December, so I’m probably giving a less than reliable witness testimony of the event, but here’s hoping you’ll find an emotional truth all the same.

So, since as has previously been established I’m generally conscientious if not keen, I had agreed to going along to the Penistone cross country (XC) event on 19th November 2017 as ballast for the TNT ladies XC team.  That reminds me, I wonder if I should update my LinkedIn profile with my sporting team memberships?  I’m sure there’s a section for it somewhere, although it may necessitate upgrading my membership option.  If I did, I might be able to pop in a note about early membership of the Tufty Club too, I’m sure both would represent a mighty boon to my professional memberships section and therefore help jump-start my currently flagging career.  Food for thought….

The day dawned.   With it came my usual trepidation.  Truthfully, I’m still a bit on the fence about the whole XC thing.  It is definitely a competitive arena, generally friendly, but there is a certain tension given off by being in the presence of others that are clearly there to push themselves to the limits.  I can’t help feeling a bit out-of-place amongst the tiny shorts and spiked shoe runners.  It’s like I’m a different species entirely.

I dug out the instructions for getting to the show ground at Penistone. Good, they looked really clear.  The blah de blah directed:

There is a reasonable-size parking area off St Mary’s Street: coming up the hill fromthe Bridge Inn traffic lights, take the final turn-off from the small roundabout just beyond the railway bridge and follow the road leading straight ahead into a large flat area to park – this is the old goods yard. There is access to the Trans Pennine Trail from here and you can see the Showground.    For Satnav put in:  “The old goods yard Penistone S36 6DT”  When this gets full, there is parking on the roads around the Showground and a small car park down next to The Paramount cinema. Please take care not to restrict access for residents. Tesco will not be over-pleased if we fill their car park, I imagine.

So I set off with a complete confidence which turned out to be entirely without foundation.  I followed the satnav and ended up on what I thought was the right road near a church but seemed to end up in a sort of vortex of narrow impossible-to-park in roads.  I was completely lost.  I ended up heading back to the railway station I’d passed on the way in, and then after loitering there a while worked out how to find the nearest Tesco to where I was using my satnav and headed there instead.  I parked in their car park in direct contravention of the stated parking policy, but this did facilitate nipping in to use their nice clean loos.  There was a queue of XC runners doing the same thing so I knew I was in the right place.  Well I assumed I was, it might be that the good folk of Penistone like to do their weekend shop in their active wear complete with a XC number for extra credibility.  A sort of wannabe runners take on the country look of hunters wellies and a 4X4 outside, even if you don’t have chickens and/or a country estate that you need to monitor.

Comfort break concluded, I bought some chocolate cornflakey things to share with other runners, and then fearful of being caught out by clampers for misuse of tesco parking facilities being a fundamentally law-abiding and compliant individual, I left the car park and tried to find the show ground which I could see from where I was parked.  After a bit of circling around, I ended up in a residential street adjacent to the grounds.  There was a fair bit of space to park.  I hoped it wouldn’t annoy the locals too much, but I couldn’t see any reason not to park there, and I made my way to the show ground.

Hmm, the show ground.  It was a fairly dark and dismal day, and the ambience of the place filled me with foreboding rather than eager anticipation. Whereas the XC venue at the Kimberworth fixture had been unexpectedly lovely and reminiscent of a jolly festival of quidditch and camping, this venue seemed somewhat grim.  I walked past a playground, and the facilities – no queue though, and took in the view of tesco’s car park along the way.

Mud underfoot, it was really cold, the sky was so low I’m pretty sure it was on the verge of falling in, and the scattered tents looked somewhat makeshift and ramshackle rather than proud and majestic.  More start-up refugee camp than splendid medieval tournament tent HQ to be honest.  I felt unsettled.  This didn’t feel immediately like it was meeting my desired fun quotient for a Sunday.  Luckily I’d already had some of that at Graves Junior parkrun first birthday party earlier.  Maybe I’d already had my allocated fun for the day, whole week even – and so it was inevitable all the hours that followed would seem dark and hollow by comparison?

 

I think some of my growing apprehension was because I couldn’t find anyone I knew.  I saw the Valley Hill Runners tent and vaguely sauntered in that direction as I figured I might see a friendly face there, but it was abandoned.   When I say ‘abandoned’ what I actually mean is I wasn’t sure I recognised anyone well enough to say ‘hello’ and those present looked to be in conference over tactics so I slunk away without making first contact.

 

seeking a friendly face

 

I didn’t really recognise anyone else, and because the ambience is a bit different to parkrun where it’s quite acceptable to strike up a conversation with pretty much everyone i didn’t know quite what to do.  Where was the TNT tent? Where were my running buddies?  I’m not saying other runners wouldn’t have been friendly, I’m sure they would, but I felt really intimidated, what with being a different species from all these toned athletes sprinting about.   I couldn’t find an obvious organisers tent where I could find out what was going on, and I didn’t even know what time the women’s XC was supposed to start.  I can’t lie, I was on the brink of turning round and going home, figuring if no-one else had shown up, no-one need ever know I’d ventured into this alien territory.  I could gorge the chocolate cornflakey things when I got home by way of comfort food, and chalk up the whole thing to experience.

Just as I was about to act on this impulse, a shout went up ‘Lucy?!’  I’ve never rarely been so relieved to hear a familiar voice.  It was a TNT buddy from before.  Hurrah!  It seems everyone had turned up late for various reasons, including the holder of the tent HQ. She’d spotted me wandering around like a lost soul, and rounded me up to join the little huddle of other TNTers who were up for a run.  Phew, that was something, you are never alone at an organised run it seems.  It also seems to be the case that people really do bond in adversity.  In that moment, she was absolutely my best friend in the whole world, and I’d happily have given her possession of all my worldly goods so grateful was I to have been seen by her and called back to the fold.  Phew.  I say all my worldly goods, but I do have a pebble with a cat painted on it of which I’m particularly fond.  I might have regretted parting with that.

It was all a bit last-minute, and our co-ordinator/ tent holder had been delayed en route (partly by struggling to negotiate the navigational challenge of the labyrinth of confusion that following the parking directions led to) so worryingly we had to use our own initiative to work out where the start was.  Working out the route was even more perplexing to me.  Lots of running round in circles basically.  Big circles, little circles, then doing them again (and again and again for the mens’ races) but without the reward of creating a crop circle at the end of it all.  Hang on, I wouldn’t normally introduce a spoiler at such an early stage, but in the interest of clarity, this is the route we ended up running:

Strava route

So you see it is indeed pretty much a case of running round in badly shaped circles (twice).  I don’t mean to be negative about the route, but l think it’d be tough to argue that the shape is as geometrically pleasing to the eye as either a crop circle or the Nazcan desert shapes of deepest, darkest Peru.  I think Paddington drew them, but I’m not sure.

I think Paddington and I probably would have similar running styles XC now I come to think of it.  It’s a real shame he’s London-based, otherwise he might have been a grand addition to the TNT XC teams.  Oh, and also that he’s a fictional character, since I get the impression XC organisers are sticklers for the rules so that could be a problem.  It would be like Babe at the sheepdog trials all over again.  Might get away with it ultimately if he put in a good performance, but some upsetting consternation along the way could be perturbing.   As a newbie, I don’t want to cause trouble this early on in my Cross Country career, but food for thought…

 

So where was I?  Oh yes,  panicking, then rescued.  We assembled, and tried to pool our knowledge about the course.  Turned out that was approximately zero. There were people running round the fields in circles all around us. The best guess was that at least one of our number said they’d done the event before.  ‘Great!’  we collectively exclaimed ‘what’s the course?’ She froze. Zero recollection.  Couldn’t even think where the start was. The only promising detail was that she seemed very confident that the route would be obvious.  I was dubious, people seemed to be running in all directions and marshals looked thin on the ground. This did not bode well, but hey ho, here we were with a job to do. We would make it so!  Just as we had resolved to run onward, Doctor Smiley/ TNT XC co-ordinator appeared and the sun came out and all was well, just time to pose for a quick women’s team snap:

 

Women's Team XC TNT

and then we headed over to the start.

start

Because I was a bit vague about start times, and the direction in which we were supposed to be heading, and still trying to pump my fellow TNTers for information about what to expect, I found I was quite literally facing the wrong way when the start shout went off!  Oops, that was a first for me, and a new low in my running experiences to dat, as although my running ineptitude can manifest in many forms, I’ve never previously considered that I might be caught out looking the wrong way.  In the circumstances it was fortunate that I realised my mistake and didn’t actually run off in the wrong direction altogether.  Somewhat embarrassing though.  I’m beginning to understand now, why no other running clubs have tried to poach me.  I dread to think how I’d fare in an actual blindfold race.  Memo to self, don’t bother to try to find out.

It was almost a relief to be underway.  Incidentally, I now realise that there was in fact a pdf file explaining the route – but I couldn’t find a map even retrospectively, so that didn’t really help.  Here it is in case of interest, good luck making sense of it!

xc penistone laps

To be fair, these guides that are intended to be helpful might instil fear in the uninitiated, but I can honestly say that on the day, it was marshaled, and it was ‘obvious’ where to go, albeit sometimes not until you got to a friendly marshal who was pointing the way.  However, you do get a sense of the running round in circles feel to it all that’s 1 small loop, one medium loop and one large loop to be run twice.  I increasingly feel this is not a Lucy-friendly format.  I also had a moment of realisation when running at Penistone, because you are basically running round the perimeter of grassy playing fields, and this necessitates looping through the tent base where other (more serious and better athletes than me) are hanging about waiting for their events to start, I got flashbacks to the humiliation of school sports days.  It just feels quite exposed.  I don’t mind being a shite runner when I’m invisible out on the trails or part of a huge gang of other runners, but there’s nowhere to hide at these XC runs.  It feels like you are running under surveillance.  Although in my head I know nobody is really that interested in what I am or am not doing, and of the minority who are there is only support and encouragement being offered, it does rather play into my insecurities.   I don’t want to let the team down by being caught walking, I’m worried that I won’t know where to go, and I’m worried about falling because that grass gets slippery when you are at the back of a pack of runners who have already run through leaving mud baths in their wake.  XC perhaps epitomizes the truism that successful  running is as much about what happens in your head as in your legs.  I have nothing but respect for those who embrace this as a sport and put themselves through such angstyness year after year.  Horses for courses I suppose.

So, underway, and it immediately felt a bit better.  Yes, I wasn’t going to set any records, but I could put one foot in front of the other, there were a couple of other runners at my speed and it became clear the marshals were going to support us and not let us get lost.  It was hard for me circling back round to the start in a mini loop straight off – you get a tantalising look at the finish but have to run on by.  Through the tent city and then off round and bypassing the fields, down more of gravel path, and up a hill.  I preferred this bit as I felt less watched. However, disaster struck. My dark & White buddy did a face plant in slow motion just ahead of me.  It looked really bad.  At first I thought maybe it was because she was wearing running spikes and this was hard under foot, but in fact it turned out it was nothing to do with that, she had literally just mis-stepped on a stone.    Looked nasty.  I stopped, and so did our fellow TNTer who was also just behind.  A marshal came running to check she was OK and she bravely got to her feet, protesting she was OK. We walked as a trio for a bit, which is how come I was able to clock that the route passed by a somewhat unlikely placed small cemetery!   No, it really, truly did!  It was bizarre, but I couldn’t help thinking that would have been handy had her fall been fatal. We could probably just have rolled her in amongst the graves and her demise would have been all done and dusted in less time than in takes even Jessica Fletcher to resolve deaths in Murder she Wrote.  For the record, I was pleased we didn’t have to take such action, convenient as it would have been, as I am counting on said buddy for Smiletastic purposes, but that’s for a future post.   Anyway, our fallen runner bravely continued for a bit, but then retired so as not to exacerbate a likely injury.

Incidentally, falling over is something that can happen to even the most elite of runners.  I am most grateful to the Smiley who sportingly shared this action tweet of Dr Smiley showing how to fall with real grace at a previous XC fixture. Expertly executed roll I think we can all agree. Here she is,  doctor smiley showing how it’s done.  Most impressive.   Thank goodness for social media and its infinite capacity to recall what might otherwise have been forgotten and consigned to history eh?

We stayed together for a bit, and then as she protested she was OK started off running again. The course was twisty and had a couple of fairly savage hills to be negotiated as part of it.  The marshals were genuinely superb though. Super friendly and encouraging.  I was feeling self-conscious about my manifest ineptitude, but they cheered me on.  I tried to thank each as I passed, sometimes in slightly strangled tones.  They do help though. There was one really muddy bit where I slid about, but hills aside, it wasn’t too bad terrain.  Towards the end of the big loop you end up back in amongst the XC village.  I was spotted by one of the frontrunner team who gave me a cheery shout.  Thank goodness I was actually running at the time, always a worry to be caught out either walking, or worse yet, collapsed in a star shape or sobbing on the ground when you are supposed to be taking part in an organised running event. Well, that’s my experience anyway.

Past the finish again, ooh, the temptation to join that funnel of people who were all done was pretty strong, but one of the marshals at the finish tape spotted me and gave me a sympathetic but firm look indicating in a glance that I’d be welcome to take that path at the alloted time, but there’d be no sneaking through any earlier – so round I went again.

 

I did find it a bit of a slog, it was cold, and I’ve not been running regularly so that made it harder.  I am desperate to get back into a decent running routine, but life is a bit all over the place just now.  XC feels to me quite a solitary discipline ultimately.  It’s very much a team in terms of the being part of a gang at the start, and the party at the tent flaps afterwards with shared goodies. Plus as the women and men’s teams run at different start times and come through the camp you can shout support at each other as they pass, but you are on your own for the actual running bit.  Maybe that’s what I find hard.  Participants are focused and giving their all whilst running, you can’t really be having a chat with other runners on the way round, it wouldn’t feel quite the done thing.

Eventually, I made it round to the finish, and parasitising supportive cheers from valley hill club members, smiling with relief I stumbled back to our TNT gang.  There  a few more were gathered in a chilly huddle, ready to support the men who were shortly starting their event.  Or possibly already had, I can’t remember!

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We shared provisions, and stood to watch the men running by, which they did loads of times.  They were like they were on a running carousel, I don’t know how many laps they did officially, but unofficially it was dizzying just watching them.

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No wonder at least one of them had to stop for a refreshment break and pep talk before continuing.

 

refreshment stop

 Once the hardship of running was concluded, it was nice to chat to my new TNT gang, and there was a multitude of biscuits and other goodies to be shared.  For future reference, there was also a sports club of sorts where you could have got a hot drink and for non-veggies a bacon sandwich.  For our club there was an impromptu knobbly knees picture contest (pick your own winner, I think it was an unofficial contest, and there may be sensitivities around the placings – it’s always hard with these more subjective competitions) – good turn out though!  🙂

knobbly knees competition

So as the day got darker and the races were finished and the chill set in, we all started to depart our separate ways.  For various reasons many of us had come on our own, I’d come from Graves junior parkrun, others had also had busy mornings pre XC so it was a bit sad saying farewells at the showground and missing out on the in the car going home debrief.  Ah well, there will be other XC opportunities for such race dissections I’m sure.

Oh, if you want the results from the day, the final Penistone XC results for 2017 are here.

There you go, my observations (belatedly) on my second XC experience.  I’m still a bit on the fence about it all to be honest.  I get why other people enjoy it.  I like the social being part of a club aspect, but I feel a bit overwhelmed by the inherent competition which is understandably the focus of it all.  I guess it’s a confidence thing.    I certainly couldn’t imagine rocking up on my own to do a XC event, whereas I would a bigger race or a new parkrun quite happily, then again, as XC is inherently a team thing, I’m not sure you ever would.

I had wanted to complete the season – there was final winter fixture in December, but alas I didn’t make it due to a knee/ calf/ shin thing going on.  That was a darned shame, as I feel I have unfinished business.  I don’t know if TNT will still exist as a club in its current form next year, so whether or not I’ll be organised and proactive enough to seek out another group to have another bash in 2018 remains to be seen. Still, where would be the fun in life if we knew exactly what the future held.  It will be good to be able to maintain some element of surprise right through to the end of next year!

So, thank you TNT buddies for making me welcome and Elder Smiley for recruiting me in the first place.  Thank you XC organisers, marshals and fellow runners for being open to a wide-eyed newbie.  I’m glad to have given it a go, but I hope if I do again I’ll have upped my game a bit to reduce the stress.  At least I’ve now understood the importance of catering on such occasions.  Can’t believe I missed out on mince pies and Amoretti for the pre-Christmas XC shenanigans.   These XC clubs have really cracked the motivational and team building aspects of running, or TNT have anyway.  Bravo.

Plenty of time to up my game before next winter, so will I be there next year?  Well, let’s say the jury’s out, which is a pretentious way of saying I haven’t decided yet.  Then again, one should always leave one’s reader wanting more, apparently…  I understand The Guardian believes XC to be running in its purest form:

Foul-smelling mud, biting wind, freezing rain and dangerously uneven ground – the English National Cross Country Championships has it all. What’s not to like?

and the thing is, I actually agree with that statement, so I do have the potential capacity to enjoy it, it’s the running round in circles aspect I wrestle with.  Now maybe if it were more point to point?  Maybe if I did some different courses?  Just think, I do all that, and one day this could be me!  Now that does look like fun!

xc running in its purest form

Hurrah!

Categories: race, running | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Making my explosive Cross Country debut with TNT. XCSYCAA Go me. :)

Digested read:  My first time XC, an adventure.  Bit intimidating initially, but you know what, it was more fun than not. Definitely would recommend.  There is always prosecco and cake if you choose your running club carefully.  Both harder and not harder than expected, but you wont lose any internal organs if my experience is anything to go by. Stay safe people. Also, happy halloween.cross country

I’m pretty sure that in life the accepted wisdom is that you should try everything once except Morris dancing and incest.  I’ve tried Morris dancing, and it wasn’t too bad to be fair, quite a laugh even, so on the whole I do try to say ‘yes’ to new opportunities.  I then spend the intervening time between agreement and surrendering to whatever experience it is wrestling with inner angst and trepidation.  Mostly, even if things are type two rather than type one fun i.e. fun retrospectively rather than at the time, worst case scenario is usually ‘I’m not sure I enjoyed myself but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it.’   Give these universal truths, it was pretty much inevitable that once I was talent-spotted and the call came to join the throng at TNT to give XC a whirl I was always going to  be so flattered and taken aback I’d be bound to accidentally accept.

I say talent spotted, but in truth, ballast spotted might be more accurate. The thing is, and it’s taken a while for me to grasp how these things work, cross-country depends on team turn out as much as talent.  Yes, yes, quality is desirable at the upper echelons of the running game, but there is also a desire for simple quantity.  If you can drag enough of your team out on the day, there will be points to be had, and what do points mean? Erm, honestly, I’m not exactly sure what points mean, never having previously acquired any for anything, but they are a good thing apparently.

To take part in cross-country or XC as we athletes refer to it, you need to be part of an affiliated running club.  Whilst of course Smiley Paces is my original and first call running club – we have shared experiences now that leave us intertwined for all eternity, Smilies are not an affiliated club.  To dip my toe in the waters – or more accurately muddied fields – of XC, I’d need to join a club that is affiliated. This feels like quite a grown up thing to do, running wise.  Even so, when Dr Smiley mentioned getting up a team with her triathlete buddies I was in a naively misguided ‘what’s the worst that could happen‘ sort of place, and so pretty much immediately said, ‘yep’.  I’d be in.  It sounded a laugh, which is my main criteria for doing new things. You get to scamper about across muddy fields in a slightly anarchic way.  The more the merrier, a bit like British Bulldog really, if I’d grasped it OK, and that was always a laugh until it got banned from the school playground for being too dangerous and we had to rebrand it as ‘sheep, sheep come home’ instead.  (True story).  I might not be able to contribute much in terms of quality, but I could certainly assist with quantity.  What could be more affirming than getting a point for your team pretty much just for turning up. Yay! This is my kind of sporting endeavour.

I had a slight wobble when it dawned on me that the TNT group are actually known more correctly as Racing TNT Triathlon Team.  Slightly daunting, but hey ho, I’d signed up by then.  As long as the requirements to ‘race’ and take part in actual triathlons remained optional, it would probably be doable.  …  I put such fears to the back of my mind.  I paid my membership, I got my England Athletics card in the post, which I think automatically endows the holder with athletic prowess if I’ve understood correctly, and wrote down the dates in my diary.  Of even more critical importance, I negotiated for the loan of a large-sized running vest.  No squelching into a children’s small size black and tan one on the day for me.  I practically felt like a sponsored athlete.  No-one has ever approached me to join a sporting team before, I was more often than not the one chosen last for the school netball team – an experience which has left me scarred, yet here I was, being scouted out and approached, invited to join others in a collective expression of sporting excellence.  I was born to do this.  My time had finally come!  I would be invincible.  It will be fine.  Competitive triathlons has probably been my spiritual home all along, doing XC will be just the beginning…

racing TNT triathlon team

It will be fine… well that was what I was thinking ages and ages again when I wasn’t going to have to do any actual running until some vague distant point in the future.  However, as the day of my debut XC run drew ever closer I was a bit worried. The unlikely issue was I hadn’t been doing very much running at all in the interim, most recently I’ve not run for a whole week, since I picked up a sporting injury at last weekend’s Sheffield Way Relay recce.  I fully appreciate this sounds unlikely, and it might even be funny if it weren’t so debilitating.  It’s a chafing one.  Chuffing chafing injuries. Specifically, a bra related chafing injury.  As if this wasn’t humiliating enough, the initial squirm inducing chafing was exacerbated to an unbelievable degree by my subsequent liberal application of sudocrem to the affected areas.  I’ve used this product for years with no problem at all, but inexplicably I got a really severe and extensive allergic reaction to the darned stuff this time round.  Acres of skin on my not insignificantly sized midriff erupted in blister like protestations that made me look like I’d been a burn victim.   I’m not even exaggerating.  I briefly wondered if I’d got or would get sepsis.   Astonishing really, and not compatible with clothes wearing in general and sports bra wearing in particular, which made me limit forays out and about as far as possible.  I did dress for these excursions by the way, just to be clear, but basically lived in the dark all week, moving in the shadows of my flat, and very definitely not doing any running at all.  I did make a brief foray to the chemist’s (twice) for supplies and advice, but basically spent the week sitting it out.  By the time the morning of the event dawned I seemed to be much better, though I am increasingly thinking a purchase for anti-chafing balms may be on the horizon despite all my previous protestations that they can’t possibly be worth the money.  I never want to undergo that degree of pain again.

So, the morning dawned, my sports bra was again donned with only minor wincing, and I would be there.  XCs was to be my new adventure for the weekend.  I had to miss volunteering at Graves Junior parkrun in order to attend so there was some pressure for it to be fun. But nothing ventured  as the saying goes…

Sporting injuries aside, I was all set.. until I crashed shin-first into a random heavy wooden box I’d left in the hallway of my flat, on the very morning of the big race. It blooming hurt, ripping the skin and creating a not-insignificant blood flow and what’s worse, it was all my fault as I’d left it there deliberately. I’d been trying to flatten out a rug I’d misguidedly tried to wash in the washing machine and which came out all bumpy, misshapen and semi-shrunk. ‘That’s an ill-advised trip hazard that needs flattening out’ I thought to myself, eyeing  it critically as it lay wrinkled and dangerous in situ in my hall.  I therefore took some care to  responsibly load it up with heavy objects in order to try to  squash said wrinkles out of it. What could possibly go wrong?  ‘I’ll just leap across the top of this major obstacle to my passing that obstructs the entire hallway, it will be good practise for the cross-country course tomorrow.’ I thought, as I headed to bed on Saturday night.  Best laid plans eh,..  I am aware of the irony of tripping over my defence strategy that was intended to prevent future trips. The humiliation is significant, so too is the pain, but worst of all, my newly washed rug now has blood on it.  I think I’ll leave it.  It will bring character to my soft furnishings, always a boon.  I was going to upload a photo of the injury, but the picture doesn’t do it justice.  Maybe I will in a couple of days time when the bruising has come out, meantime you’ll just have to imagine it as best you can for yourself.

So XC.  My weather test of sticking my arm out of my attic window suggested a decidedly nippy day was in prospect.  Good oh, I could wear my long-sleeved top and hoik the TNT vest over the top.  I headed out for my rendezvous and was swept up by a Smiley elder, who was also doing her XC debut with TNT last Sunday (though in fairness, that is where our similarities end, as  I think when she was scouted it was for quality not quantity to tell the truth, oh well, kindred spirits all the same). We then scooped up Dr Smiley who was the brains and recruitment sergeant of operations, as well as being in possession of the official TNT pop up tent (with instructions), so pretty important to have along on the day.  We headed off to Kimberworth (near Tinsley apparently, but who was listening to anyone protesting that navigational hint).

Strictly speaking, this was the second fixture of the South Yorkshire County Athletics XC season, and XC League Fixture 2, Winter hill, Kimberworth.  I couldn’t do the first on account of it being the Smiley Lakes Dirty Double trip, so my debut.  Hurrah!  En route, as we discussed the format of the day, I started to realise a bit belatedly I possibly should have given this XC malarkey a bit more planning.  I’d taken on board the mud potential, and not wanting to splash out on new shoes for spikes was going with my new favourite off-road shoes which are the Irock, and that was that.

favourite shoes irock

En route I learned that there would be multiple laps, that there would be loads of clubs, there were even different races.  It was sounding increasingly like the living hell I remember without affection as a school sports day.  ‘Didn’t you ever do cross-country at school?’  Erm, ‘nope.’  No fields surrounded my schools where I was growing up, also I put quite a lot of effort into skipping games  – more because of communal showers than anything else!  I looked at my two traveling companions with new objectivity. Hang on a minute, I’m in a car with two of the most elite Smiley runners I know, sponsored athletes, GB representatives, FGRs indeed.  How did this happen? What if the ballast requirement whilst true in and of itself, wasn’t sufficiently well used by other teams.  Would I find myself hobbling in some hours after everyone else had packed up and gone home, having only set off their most gazelle like runners as the gun went off.  Eek.

With only minor directional squabbling, we made it to the venue, and as we were early, managed to get a space in the school car park – though not before doing some impressive kerb crawling up a back lane and a nifty bit-more-than-a-three-point-turn to get out of it again.  Incidentally, and pleasingly, as you turn into the entrance to the fields and school, you pass a pub called The Colin.  This is officially the best named pub ever, not only because I say so, but also because this is a self-evident truth.  No fake news here.

The Colin

Parked up, stuff was removed from the car, including considerable provisions and the collapsible tent (note to self, bring communal provisions next time) and headed to the playing fields.  I lagged behind, my inner apprehension manifesting itself in physical form. For the record, I did offer to help carry, but was declined.  Instead I documented the labour of others, a worthy activity in and of itself I’m sure you’ll agree.

to the field

We turned the corner and the XC race HQ came into view.

Oh.  My.  Gawd.

This I had not expected!  The field was set up with an array of colourful tents and flags as each XC team had laid claim to some bit of territory. It was like a scene from a film portraying a tournament camp for gladiators, jousting or Quidditch or something.  I would have said Glastonbury, but it was a bit less muddy and more clean-cut than that.  Also, there were proper loos you could use in the sports hall, in case you are worrying about me and my need for my precautionary pee.  Some clubs were taking their emblematic presence more seriously than others.  I wasn’t sure the shield wall was entirely in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, but it doesn’t appear to be explicitly disallowed in the rules as far as I could tell.  Well, I presume not, as I gather XC is quite traditional in relation to rule book observance, so it wouldn’t otherwise have gone unchallenged.

Energetic young people were sprinting about doing elaborate warm ups.  No doubt within some of the more lavish tents, favoured athletes were being oiled and massaged by minions to ensure they’d arrive at the starting lines primed and ready to go like well oiled springs.  I stood blinking into the sun, aware of my stomach spontaneously somersaulting within….

Our tent was erected with an expert flick of the wrist by Dr Smiley, and adorned with the TNT flag.

Size isn’t everything just so you know.

size isnt everything (2)

Then it was down to business.  Running vests were provided – I’m just loaning one for now, mercifully I got first dabs and appropriated the only large one. There were two others, but they were sample sizes for display only on doll-size models as far as I could tell.  Altruism is all very commendable and everything, but I’d defy anyone to wrestle the large running vest off me. Suitably attired, it was then time for pre run drinks!  A rich red port all round to get us in the mood.  Well, Dr Smiley said it was beetroot juice, but I’m not sure.

in the XC spirit

It was a very, very beetrooty red wine to be fair, but I’m normally more of a white wine drinker myself, so not too sure what ‘normal’ port would taste like.  Anyways, now I had some dutch courage sloshing within, I went for an explore to calm my nerves.  I didn’t yet have my race number (you get allocated one to keep for the whole season), so went naked amongst the throng.

I nervously sashayed by the various other athletic teams affecting confident nonchalance.  Given my lack of a number, I was half expecting some at least of them to try to poach me for their own clubs, but astonishingly none did. They probably just knew instinctively I would be out of their league and didn’t want the embarrassment of refusal.  It’s true one club member did say to me  ‘what are you doing here?’ but I’m sure they just momentarily misspoke and weren’t incredulous at my presence at all.  Once I got over the initial terror of being surrounded by ‘proper’ athletes, in what was quite clearly a competitive set up and therefore way out of my usual comfort zone, it was quite fun seeing various runners pop up with unexpected affiliations. There’s so and so from Dark Peak – wearing a Sheffield Tri top.  Ooh, look at that frontrunner in a Totley top, get that parkrunner flaunting a Hallamshire Harrier vest and so on.  It was like all these runners have a parallel existence.  I suppose to be fair I did too. It was my first outing in a non-smiley vest.  It felt somewhat alien.  I said hello to a few people and all seemed friendly enough. Phew.

well hello

I sauntered over to the start to look at the course, which was bothering me a bit as it was apparently multiple laps, and I couldn’t fathom any obvious signage other than a big flag at the start.  There was a map it’s true, but it didn’t massively instil confidence:

 

 

I went to watch the junior women’s race.  This was for me the low point of the day. They all looked super focused, really competitive, lining up, bright-eyed, lean and hungry for the race.  It would be a race. The marshal gave some sort of briefing I couldn’t really hear, then there was an actual starting gun, and they took off, elbows out and jostling for position. This was a serious business.  No fancy dress here.  They looked amazing in their club vests, but they also looked like the kind of young women who would have massively intimidated me at school.  It was impressive.  The race started down hill so they hurtled off, not a slow runner in sight.  This did not strike me as an altogether ballast friendly undertaking, whatever the recruitment rhetoric might have implied at the time…

I made my way back to the safety of my TNT team mates.  Pleasingly, our numbers had swelled a little in my absence, although my number had yet to appear, some familiar faces had.  My new best friend from the Dig Deep 12.12 and my TNT buddy I’d met at the TenTenTen, who’d let me peer down her top for sizing purposes, phew. There were allies here.

One of the peculiarities (for me) of cross-country, is that there are multiple races taking place on the day. Different categories run at different times, that’s possibly what gives a bit of a school sports day feel to proceedings.  On reflection, I think the junior races probably attract a more self-selecting group of already sporty youngsters.  For the adult events, whilst it is true there were some formidable runners, there was also a scattering of what I would regard as the have a go participants, in which I include myself.

Somewhat bizarrely, there were different length courses not just by age, but for men and women.  The details were all on the cross country section of the South Yorkshire County Athletics Association website.  Hang on though, I’ll see if I can get a pic of some of the details just so you can share my confusion:

xc race kimberworth oct 2017

There you go.  So the men had to run three laps and just over 9000 metres, the women only just 6200 metres or thereabouts, and two laps.  I think this must be for our own protection in case our wombs fall out that was part of the problem for the legend that is Kathrine Switzer when she was wanting to run a marathon.  I wonder if the XC rule makers think women’s uteruses will fly out if they travel by train as well?   This fixture was safe as there was no railway station at the venue, but I suppose it is worth considering if future events are located at train terminuses, you’d have to do a proper risk assessment then.  Personally I worry more about sexual harassment on public transport than losing my womb when traveling at speed, but then I’m past child-bearing age so could manage without so can perhaps afford to be blasé about such risks.

Having scooped up other runners, we went again to look at the map, this time equipped with someone who knew how to make sense of the route.  I was still quite confused, there seemed to be lots of looping about, like the old Spirograph sets I so coveted in my youth, only more complex and less symmetrical.  I  wasn’t much the wiser, but I was reassured by my more experienced runners protestations that the course was well-marked and well marshalled.  That’s OK then.

now it makes sense

BAck at base camp, other TNTers had assembled, and pleasingly (I think) my number had materialised too.  Here it is, and here I am wearing it!

We even organised ourselves sufficiently for a team women’s photo, hurrah!

Team TNT XC Oct 2017

After this faffing, I discovered our race was at noon, not 12.30 as I’d thought, so I went off to the start line.  I was too hot, for the record, I should have just worn a T-shirt under my vest, but I hadn’t expected the glorious sunshine.  I lurked nervously at the back of the line up. The starter shouted out some vague instructions.  My favourite of which was the earnest direct to keep that side for this part and that side for the other. As none but the front row of runners could hear him, this seemed something of a triumph of hope over experience.  I was just hoping I’d stay in sight of the faster runners so could just literally as well as metaphorically follow their lead.

Then ‘suddenly’ there was an actual gun shot (not actual live bullets as far as I could tell,  but a starting pistol) which made me jump and then we were off!  The women started with the veteran 65+ men.  I was right at the back of the field as we stampeded off downhill.  Immediately, apart from the shock of being expected to run, which always astonishes me at running events – I felt reassured.  Unlike the junior women earlier on, this was a bit more sedate. There was quite a longish crocodile of runners, and a slightly narrow start and sharp left turn meant it was a bit congested.  It felt manageable. Watching the colourful snake of runners ahead it honestly reminded me a bit of a parkrun, albeit one on a trail. Without a doubt at the front of the field people were really pushing themselves, but at the back it was more collaborative than competitive with friendly smiles and words of encouragement.

We headed off across a field basically.  In previous years Dr Smiley has run this whole course with just one shoe. Not because  she didn’t allow enough time to get dressed at the start, but because she lost one in the mud on lap one and didn’t want to lose time or places by stopping to retrieve it.  I had explained if this happened to me I wouldn’t be continuing without first restoring my shoe to my foot.  I’m more of an ugly sister than a Cinderella at heart.  I like to have my shoes correctly adorning my person when out and about on the whole.  This year, the course was completely dry.  As we took off it turned out the route was very clear. The marshals were spread out, but the course was obvious.  There were some men warming up and running back and forth along the route, some cheery officials and even some supporters at strategic points.

The route took us up and down over hills and if you remembered to look up there were some pretty good views, it was very much more scenic than I’d anticipated, a partly urban landscape, with a housing estate at one side, but impressive all the same.   There was a heave ho up quite a steep hill, then a sort of strange loop within a loop, emerging for a bit of a downward stretch where I saw a friendly face in the form of SCS photographer who gave cheery encouragement as well as taking a couple of fine photos, having been trained up specially to delete any deeply unflattering ones I presume.  I mean, I might not be svelte exactly, but I am both airborne and smiling, for which I am most grateful! Must stop crossing those arms over when I run, inefficient use of energy and also obscures my team shirt logo!  Disaster!  Thanks Sheena Woodhead for the pic, sorry you weren’t running yourself, but good to see you all the same.  Seeing people I know definitely motivates me to run more, I feel I owe it to them to make an effort, seeing as they are making the effort to cheer us round!

SW in action in air TNT

After a bit of a down hill, and a slightly humiliating (for me) romp through race HQ where all the really good runners could watch you wobble by before they joined the start line for their own run, you went over a road and then hoiked up another steep hill. The faster runners were already looping back at this point, and it was fun to cheer some by.  I tried my best going up the hill but it was hard.  I might have walked a bit to be fair.  At this point three of us TNT runners were in a little row like flying ducks, only with less actual flight.   One of the marshals encouragingly remarked on this ‘oh look, you are three in a row!’ he said, before apparently whispering to the one in the lead ‘but you are in the front of them’.  The marshals were great all the way round, cheering us on as well as providing necessary directional pointing.

After the hill, another sharp left and then there was a properly undulating bit, narrow mud track and ditches on either side, it was fun to try to get enough momentum on the down to clamber up the hills ahead.  Like a DIY roller coaster.  Red paint like stuff was on the ground to aid navigation.  It was pretty clear, apart from at one point where I did got the right way, but one of our lead runners overshot I think.  A bit frustrating, but one of those things I suppose. Not quite as bad as the Venice marathon where the race had an unexpected previously unknown winner, Eyob Faniel after a motorcycle escort led the lead group off route, but unfortunate all the same.  Round the corner, down the hill, past the same marshal who’d earlier been urging us up hill, across the road and then back on to the edge of the HQ field, down and over a little wooden bridge.

Then just towards end of the first lap was a sculpture very similar to those we’d passed doing the SWR leg 1 recce   last week, clearly part of the same sculpture trail.  I rather like them.  Enough that I bothered to walk down and look at them properly after I’d finished running, and attempted to take some artistic shots of them and the runners juxtaposed.

That was the first lap done.  It felt manageable, and there was enough variety for it not to be boring, which was my big fear.  The hills were more challenging than I expected, but I just focused on the TNT runner ahead of me. I’ve followed her before at Carsington Water Dark and White trail event where we finished in very similar times, so I really let her do the pacing for me which is either parasitic of me or good race craft.  As we were the same team on this occasion, I am going to go with the latter!

The second lap went quickly.  The field had spread out. I was vaguely aware that the men would be heading off at 12.30, and was a bit worried about being lapped, or more specifically, where I’d be when that moment inevitably came.  I was just reaching the top of the hill within the second part of the figure of eight, when the marshal warned they were in sight. Curses. They caught me at exactly the worst part of the course where the undulations and the DIY roller coaster were in situ.  I decided it would be too antisocial to press on as there wasn’t really anywhere for the faster runners to overtake so I’d either be trampled, or really piss some runner off which didn’t seem fair.  I opted instead to stand to one side to let the first swarm pass and then periodically nipped in and out to navigate the route as best I could without getting in the way, clapping where I could.  Hang on, let me find the route map on strava, you’ll see what I mean:

route kimberworth xc

Not the most obvious of routes, but it did work, and you don’t need to navigate.  Once the majority of the men had shot by, I got sort of swept up with those that remained.  I did get quite breathless trying to hold my own. Many shouted words of encouragement as they passed, including some from TNT, it was competitive certainly but friendly still. Even so, I was quite relieved when I made it back into the HQ field, round over the little bridge and soon the finish flags were in sight. A quick burst up the hill and there were the already finished TNT women to cheer our little strung out trio of finishers in.  It was great actually.  Not too bad at all.  My womb didn’t fall out, but (shh, don’t tell) I was secretly quite pleased not to have to do a third lap.

Because the men had started at 12.30 and were doing three laps, I got a drink and then joined the others at the finish line to cheer the rest of our TNT team and other known runners home. It was quite fun.  As TNTers finished, they joined the support throng. It was like playing sardines only with less hiding in cupboards and more furious running round.  It was fun at the finish. Quite novel for me to get to cheer fellow team members home in.  Usually, I’m the last Smiley home, this format meant the men finished after me.  Something of a boon to my self-belief in future!

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Some of the men looked quite tired after all that running round in circles.  I wonder if any of them lost internal organs during the final lap?  There was a first aid tent at the finish just in case, but patient confidentiality meant those paramedics were giving nothing away.  There was also an impromptu wrestling match going on.  Fair enough.  I must have missed the sign up for that.

So Doctor Smiley counted all the TNT runners out, and then she counted them all back. Once secure in the knowledge that all were accounted for, it was back to base for compulsory prosecco.  Prosecco and cake!  Well, vegan rockie road which is basically cake.   No really. Every time apparently, and as this comes from a reliable source I have no reason to disbelieve it.  My ending up part of the TNT team offering at this event may have been through serendipity, but it seems a fitting home for me.  We were having fun.  The prosecco was even dressed for the occasion.  Marvellous.

compulsory prosecco

The prosecco was good for team morale, but maybe less helpful in terms of enhancing spatial awareness and problem solving skills as evidenced by those trying to pack up the tent.  You will note that once again I just stayed out of proceedings, leaving it to those with greater initiative than me to wrestle with the situation. Which they did.  It was touch and go, but the tent lost out in the end.  It got desperate enough that at one point the directions were dragged out and referred to.  I mean that has got to be quite a low point I’m sure you’ll agree, but desperate times do indeed call for desperate measures.

All around us tents were being dismantled and bags being packed, and pretty soon we were all trekking back to the carparks like festival goers departing after a weekend rave.  Tired and filthy but happy.   There was one anxious moment when our driver got caught up in the gate by her turtle shell, but she’s just not used to being so overtly ninja in public. She’ll get there.  You just need to own those labels sometimes.  You will from henceforth be known as Ninja Smiley to me 🙂 , which is a compliment by the way, in case that is in any way ambiguous.

 

smiley ninja

Back to the car, and homeward bound.  For our return voyage, I tried to get my head around the discipline of triathlon.  Granted, it probably takes more than a half hour car journey to truly grapple with it, but I’ve got the basics.  Three disciplines, so three lots of training, and they sort of mimic running i.e. speed, strength, endurance. That made sense until I realised I can’t imagine how you do hills in swim sessions, please not by trying to negotiate huge waves.  Also, I still haven’t quite recovered from the shock of realising that ‘proper’ triathletes don’t swallow huge amounts of water when they swim.  I’d idly mentioned to Dr Smiley previously that I couldn’t see how she could possibly  swim in the sea and then cycle or run anywhere after drinking all that salty water.  It was a complete revelation to me when she looked slightly bemused and said simply ‘but, I don’t swallow water when I swim.’  That had really and truly never crossed my mind as a possibility.  I’d always suspected triathletes to be super human, but that particular skill totally blows my mind!  Imagine that, swimming without swallowing any water let alone nearly drowning!  Amazing.  I’m more buoyant than anything though, I don’t think I’d ever sink or drown, but forward motion might be an issue, so  it would never be my thing.  Cycling stage is tough too. Have you seen how lean some of those cyclists get?

Halloween evil kneivel triathlete

So that was it.  My XC debut done and dusted.

It was definitely more fun than not.  I would – indeed will – do it all again.  The arrival at base camp was intimidating, this is probably the only running event I’ve ever done where the focus is so very clearly on competition.  It was friendly, but I did feel a bit in the way when lapped.  Having said that, how refreshing that just turning up to be counted means you have some intrinsic value for your team.  Plus, there is clearly a huge social, eating, drinking, cross fertilisation between running clubs thing going on that I hadn’t appreciated.  It’s not a just turn up and run and then depart kind of thing, it eats into the day. That doesn’t bother me, but wouldn’t be massively compatible with a family Sunday unless everyone was running.  Good though.  I’d say try it.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It was certainly doable today without spikes, and I think quite a few people do just run it in trail or fell shoes quite happily, though I suppose in serious mud you’d need to take care.

So thanks TNT for welcoming me on board and Dr Smiley in particular for guiding me  and Ninja Smiley through our debut outings.  Thank you for arranging a birthday so there was cake and prosecco, and weather so there was sunshine, and running buddies so it was fun.  It was a fine romp out, and you can’t say fairer than that.

Come on people, give it a go, and do yourself a favour, next time bring rations for your club buddies, or at the very least leaden lard cakes to feed to the opposition, that should slow them down nicely.

You’re welcome.

Just think, this time next year, you could be running in the shadow of Keppel’s Column.   Your life will be the richer for it.  Plus, could arm you with the answer to an obscure, regionally based pub quiz question in future.  Just be there.  Take responsibility for your future, and join the race.

DSCF9998

Oh the results?  If you care, the prelim results for the SYCAA XC league race two are here.  Other XC leagues are available, apparently, no idea how you find out where and when, go discover for yourself, it’s all part of the adventure.

Happy running ’til next time.  Also, happy halloween.

BOO!  Don’t look back

halloween-run runners edge 2016.png

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