Running

Runcorn Cross-Country Race

I don’t think I have cared for a pair of trainers as much as I have cared for these trail shoes. Okay, this is only my second official XC race, but I am fairly certain that this process of scrubbing the several layers of grime and grass after each time may turn into a ritual. It would be quite a therapeutic exercise, if it weren’t so very cold outside. However, there is some satisfaction to, slowly, uncovering the patches of neon pink until they join up.

Town Park, in Runcorn, seems like a rather lovely country park, or it did before we came and churned it up. I’ve never actually been to Runcorn, even though it’s only twenty minutes away by car. I’ve driven over the lovely arch bridge many a time, on my way to or from Liverpool, when I lived there, but never stopped because I had no reason to, until now.

Having finally succumbed to the dreaded disease over Christmas, this was the first time I would be giving it some welly and I was a bit nervous. I know a few runners now, that have suffered, or are still suffering from Long Covid, and it sounds pretty horrible, so, for once, I was a bit relieved that I am a very slow runner, and wasn’t going to push my lungs to their limit.

The course was a little less muddy than my first race, but there were still plenty of places where I nearly left my shoes behind, to be sucked in to the squelch. Luckily I had made sure the laces were tight, and triple-knotted, and tucked out of the way. I carried my phone this time, in a little plastic bag in case I fell. One of these days I will get a fancy watch, but for now this will have to do.

It was two laps, like the last time, which meant I had to get up two hills twice. The first hill of the lap was manageable, and I felt quietly pleased, as, I think, a year ago I would have struggled. The second, which has been dubbed the ‘ski slope’ (think ‘Black route’ as opposed to nursery slope) was a swine. As well as the steep gradient, it got increasingly slippery, and by the time I heaved myself up it the second time, I was going backwards almost as much as I was going forwards.

It did seem to take me a good two miles to get my breathing feeling more comfortable, but I think (hope) that’s because I was pulled along too fast at the beginning, and nothing untoward on the lurgy front.

Again, I was the last Pensby Runner to come in, but that didn’t matter, so much as finally seeing that Finish line. I was welcomed in warmly by the rest of the gang, and I didn’t fall, I didn’t twist my ankle, and I didn’t lose my trainers, so, for me, it was a win.

Running

Running, or was it wallowing (?), in Beacon Park

I’m squatting by a bucket of muddy water outside my house with rubber gloves on and a toothbrush in my hand, wondering if this is what normal people do on a Sunday.

To clarify, the toothbrush has long been demoted from the task of cleaning teeth, and used to have a happy, later life getting around the taps with a dab of Cif. Now, it’s taken a further step down the ladder, and been relegated to scrubbing the mud off the grips in my shoes, as today was my first attempt at cross-country running since my school days.

Although I had taken my new trail shoes for a small, initial spin around Storeton Woods last Sunday, this was their real christening. I can now say that they were worth it, as they were really comfy and they kept me upright.

The day turned out to be a bright, sunny one, albeit with some hefty gusts. Some of our team found that out, when they tried putting the club gazebo up on the grass. By the time we arrived, they were busy taking it down again before it flew away to Oz.

Several hundred people were milling around in the sun in various states of preparation, We had a fifteen strong running group for Pensby, plus some kind volunteers to help look after us all, but I didn’t realise that so many people did this kind of thing for fun on a Sunday morning. Maybe it was the lack of runs in 2020, and the dry day today, but the first race of the North West Cross Country season  was very well attended.

I had triple-knotted my laces, and Claudia had shown me a handy loop on the top of my shoes to shove the bows in, but I was still thinking I should have tightened the laces a little more, and wondering if I had time to readjust, when the horn sounded. The hordes around me stormed ahead and I was swept up in it for a short while, until I was a little out of breath and slowed to a more manageable pace.

At the start, the ground felt quite nice. The grass didn’t feel like it had too many hidden dips and was actually quite springy and enjoyable, once I could breathe again. That didn’t last.

I often worry that, when I get left behind as I invariably do, I may be liable to take a wrong turning somewhere, if there aren’t enough marshals. I didn’t need to worry this time, as even if the marshals and well laid out sign posts hadn’t been there, I had only to follow the heavily churned ground to find my way. At Storeton Woods I did my best to skip over or go around the muddy patches. Here there was zero option to circumvent, and as I ventured to find some non-existent edge, a fellow competitor said: sometimes the easiest way is straight through the middle.

Sage words, and by the middle of the first loop I was heeding them, although I was nearly left shoeless on several occasions, and wished I had tightened up those laces at the beginning. Towards the end of the first loop I was being lapped by some of the front-runners, including Ben, the first Pensby in, who’d been feeding his new-born girl at 4am this morning. I think he just came out for the run to have a rest!

The marshal optimistically asked me if I’d done my two loops, just after Ben sailed passed me, but no, I had to do it all again before I could take that right turn to the finish. For the first loop, there had been two steepish hills and a few undulations. For the second, it all felt like hills, but, remarkably, I was really starting to enjoy myself. The sun was out, the endorphins were kicking in and I hadn’t fallen or twisted my ankle. What a great day!

Even more lovely, as I was getting to the end and pushing up a crazy final hill to that finish line, I had the biggest cheer from the rest of the Pensby Runners team. I was the last Pensby in but, surprisingly, not the last runner to finish the course. It actually wouldn’t have mattered to me if I was, as someone will always be last. Getting out there to begin with was the win for me today.

The trainers are cleaner than they were five minutes ago but probably not as pristine as they were first thing this morning, which is alright. They feel like they belong on my feet a bit more now that I’ve doused them in the mud. Though I have to remember to tie my shoe laces up tighter next time!

Running

Trails…of destruction?

I’ve decided to take up trail running.

Well I haven’t really, not for definite. But I have now bought some (expensive for me but still the cheapest ones in the shop) shoes for trail runs.

New trail shoe in foot with purple socks
One of my new clodhoppers

I know you can get much cheaper ones online, but I do have a thing about trying to support a real, local, running shop because they’re so useful about giving you proper advice on what type of shoe you should go for. Also the online sites didn’t have my size.

Actually the shoes I’ve bought are several sizes bigger than my foot size which is 3.5. In running shoes I regularly get between a 4.5 and a 5 because there is so much internal padding and you need to allow space for ‘spread’. These ones are a 6 (!) and a very dark pink so in my head I look like a circus clown (Anne assures me that I don’t).

So why have I spent all this crazy money? It’s in the hope that I actually do some trail running. Even though I’m not mad keen on getting down and dirty, especially in the winter months, I’ve read, and been told, about the many wonderful things about trail running and I feel like I should dip a muddy toe in.

Wonderful thing No 1 – It’s very mindful

I had a go at breaking in these deep magenta bad boys on Sunday in Storeton Woods and I could kind of see what they mean. Because you’re busy trying not to twist your ankles on the tree roots and hidden dips that plague your way, you are definitely not thinking about anything else. Plus, as I’m still averse to dirt, I’m trying to skip over or around the many bogs and mud patches that have developed with the unceasing rain. So, if mindfulness means paying attention then, yes, most definitely, I was that.

Wonderful thing No 2 – It slows you down

This is apparently wonderful because we’re all just too busy trying to be faster and we should just chill with nature – or something like that.

As regular readers may know, I am not the fastest kid on the block, nor even anywhere near the middle. However, based on this little trip, my normal sloth speed was indeed further diminished by aforementioned obstacles and dodgy uneven ground so that I had to walk (or rather scramble) in places. Walking is apparently a crucial part of trail running, and while serious road runners would never dream of having one foot permanently on the ground during a run, trail runners embrace it as part of the experience of getting across the terrain – or something like that.

Wonderful thing No 3 – It works more of your muscles

Well, yes. To say I was ker-nackered after that short and slow three and a bit miler maybe gives credence to that idea. I felt that, because my feet were landing at different angles, my motion was sometimes side to side, and my arms were flailing about to keep my balance, parts of my body were definitely being woken up that otherwise wouldn’t have been active.

I am a bit clumsy with my running or any physical activity, and my right ankle has sometimes got nearly or, occasionally, fully twisted when I’ve fallen. So this whole idea of trail running feels a bit counter-intuitive. However, I’m thinking that, if I do it slowly (which has never been a problem) I could actually build up the tendons and muscles around my ankles a little bit more by having a go at these crazy runs.

There is a season of local trail races coming up this winter, and I’m bobbing along for at least the first one this Sunday. I have verified that my presence will not be detrimental to any team positions so I’ll give it a go and let you know.