The mud was so overwhelming that later that night I thought I might be having nightmares about what I had just done. This was my first cross-country race in five years and let's just say, it all (re)started with a bang.
It has been raining a lot in Oxford over the past few days, so I knew there would be mud, but the extent of it left me shellshocked throughout the 6.6km run through Shotover park on a chilly January morning.
It was as tough an introduction as it can be, starting from the deep ditch about 300m from the start where I nearly felt in and had to use my hands to support myself - diving into the deep mud. So I had to run with dirty hands and the feel of the wet mud drying on my palm. (And when I finished, 40 minutes later, the mud had permeated my shoes and my socks, which was another first, the mud it was everywhere!).
From that ditch on, it was all about an exercise in survival, first in the deep mud on the flat thick grass fields, then on the long uphill with the deep mud ever present, then a bit of flat mudded grass path and the long and extremely soppy downhill.
My goal was not to lose a shoe, and not to be completely immersed in mud, so I just plodded along at the back of the queue, feeling awe for everyone at the front! Then right before the end, a nasty surprise, as after the final sprint, we discovered that the finish had been moved to include another long loop around the finish line (note to self: do check the route details even for routes that you think you know very well by now!). Try running another 500m when the lactate has kicked in - not fun!
Why do I do it? The buzz I got yesterday from this muddy XC race was incredible, just being able to do something like this and pull through. As we were trying to navigate the path from Shotover down to the Horspath track, we were rewarded with some incredible views that will stay with me for days. Also, the demands in terms of balance and proprioception are noteworthy and hopefully will make me a more fully-rounded runner after a few of these races.
Finally, for the sense of camaraderie with the fellow Headigton RoadRunners ladies and men, we are so lucky to have such a welcoming and inclusive club and I would urge everyone to join a club to add another, social aspect to their running (and this coming from a mostly lone wolf runner is a huge saying!).
My XC comeback has been painfully slow, but exciting, and hopefully there are better days to come.