The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Soft thudding stomp on the grass.
Crackle and rustle through the autumn leaves.
Snap on twigs in the woods.
Clattering spikes on the tarmac paths.
Slip slop and squelch in the mud.
Wade through a dark mirky stream.

All this can mean only one thing.

Aside from the fact that poetry is not my strong point, it is also Cross Country season.

After last year’s introduction, I was looking forward to digging out my hot pink shoes, which, given my laziness after the final Wirral Multi-Terrain in September were a little less hot and hardly pink at all. I will have to do some scrubbing after today though, as the entire surface, and most of the insides is caked in mud.

I had not done the Clarke Gardens run, in Liverpool, before and had been told that it would involve a little water wading. Okay!

Standing near our Pensby Runners turquoises (or is it teal?) tent, I was in two minds about running at all, given that a very tight knot had formed in my calf on my Friday run, which curtailed my long run attempt that day and saw me hobble home.

I could walk again comfortably though, and conferred with fellow Pensby, Chris, who is also a doctor.

He said: try not to go off too aggressively, and just keep it steady.

I thought: I would never have put my running and the word ‘aggressive’ in the same sentence before.

However, the start was on the grass and a long gentle downhill, and I could see how, regardless of your level, you could get carried away when the hooter goes, so I tucked in near the back.

It was two laps of the field to begin with and that gentle downhill made way for a slog of an up. Despite trying to keep it steady, I was huffing quite loudly on those ascents. I think I need to warm up more, and a bit more vigorously, in order to get my heart rate higher from the off.

The second two laps were mainly in the woods and the trails. There were some treacherously disguised tree roots and a precipitous descent down some steps. Then the squelching really began. The path alongside this tiny, almost dried up stream, was churned up to the point where I did actually walk for fear of falling on my backside, having seen the woman in front do precisely that.

Then the crossing.

How the race organisers had managed to find this one deep point with the claggiest of black liquid when the rest of the stream was barely a trickle was amazing. I was up to my knees in the deepest spot.

I had been doing my best to remain as clean as I could. To find the less muddy edges. But there was something so liberating about immersing my lower legs fully in the deep bog that I just felt that the child in me had been released.

A woman runner wading through the mud in the woods
I was next …

I hadn’t quite realised that I’d be doing the whole loop twice until I started getting lapped a couple of minutes later, and as I emerged from the woods, these speedsters sailed left to the finishers funnel while I stomped, slightly water-logged, straight on. I was on my own for much of this second lap with a big gap ahead and small gap behind, but I enjoyed the sound of just my own (slightly laboured) breath while watching the leaves come spinning down with each gentle gust.

I inspected my legs only after I too had made it to the finish, and got a lovely big cheer from the rest of the Pensby Runners who’d all finished well ahead of me, but were still merrily mudded. At least I managed to make it to the end before a quick downpour emptied on us, which was timely.

My calf didn’t feel any worse, and my average pace was just below 11 minute miles which was reasonable. But what made me really happy was the joy of sampling two different types of cake in our tent that two of the runners had made, and Claudia also sorted me out with a nice hot tea.

Muddy shoes and legs
My legs have never been this brown

There are lots of other great ways to spend a Sunday morning, but this has got to be up there with them. Just a bit exhilarating.

Things I need to remember for the next time:

Jim had brought a 4-pinter carton of water which I borrowed to sluice over my lower legs. Could definitely do with one of those.

Wellies, as replacement footwear are probably better than flip flops, especially if you have dodgy calf.

A flannel, preferably not a white one (to begin with) to wipe down my arms and face.

We did get lucky with the weather today, a warm day, and not too rainy until we got back in the car. No high winds either which was nice.

If you enjoyed this piece and want to follow all my blogs (which are, mainly, about running), feel free to add your email below and each new blog should find it’s way into your inbox (or maybe your spam – you may want to check that to begin with).

Next year I hope to complete two marathons, mainly because I’m turning 50 and having another mid-life crisis. But I’ll be charting my training progress on here periodically, in an attempt to keep myself from taking it all too seriously but simultaneously keeping me accountable. Plus, occasionally there’ll be a random book review, or a cycling story, or a travel guide. But mainly, they’ll be about my adventures in running.

3 thoughts on “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

  1. Yay, Rita! This is a terrific accomplishment, mud and all. Your poem was also quite good. It appealed to my senses, and I could imagine it all. Your latest running adventure reminds me of when I ran the Spillway Trail Run in my area many moons ago. I wiped out and fell hard on my booty. It rained the day before and the mud was slick. Needless to say, I never ran it again. LOL.

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