Donned in green and black face paint and matching green hair, along with club mates I’m ready: Some 500 runners crowd tightly together on a playing field in St Neots, ready to race in the first of a series of cross country races open only to members of running clubs (which currently numbers 17). Welcome to the Frostbite Friendly League… Welcome to cross country madness…
Rules: The top 10 finishers of each club are scorers. Three of these must be women. The better each runners overall position, the lower their score and the lowest scoring team of the series wins.
On today’s agenda for the seniors is a 5ish mile race in the Cambridgeshire town of St Neots. With note- able residents such as Olympian Swimmer; Mark Foster and – back in the 19th century – the only person to assassinate a British Prime Minister; John Bellingham.
I digress… Before the seniors, the fun run is on; which has more kids than you could shake a stick at and on the crack of the starting gun over 200 little people pelt it across the playing field, bidding for victory in their 1.5 mile (ish) dash. ‘The Daughter’ is lost in the centre of this human bundle and I begin to doubt she’s even present at the start… Did we leave her at home..?
The atmosphere is electric, with parents and club members alike screaming encouragement and my own ploy of kidnapping ‘The Daughter’s’ favourite teddy, promising to release her only if she runs well seems to have done the trick as she tears up the trail in a great time.
Once all the little people have finished and have been popped back in their cages, it’s time for the seniors (5ish mile) race. On starters orders we are off joined by an escapee dog – possibly Fenton’s cousin – who manages to weave his way into the middle of the front runners, barking, bounding and helping ease the tension by running us out for the first 200 meters.
The first part of the course, marked by white flags, leads us up a slight grassy incline. It’s nice and wide so there are not too many elbows and knees to contend with.
After a half mile, I find a nice rhythm and start to pass some of the more over excited runners who are already easing off the pace. I’ve no race plan albeit to hope for as little pain as possible. My wish appears to have been granted and a subtle smile creases my face as we start to enter the wooded section, running over a small wooden bridge – a sharp corner preceding it – and then progressing across a single file trail track.
A group starts to form consisting of about six runners and the single file track seems to control the pace somewhat. Knowing who is leading the pack, it feels like the pace is being constrained just a little at this stage however once we emerge back into open space, I see why; we’ve climbed a slight incline for the last half mile.
The group I’m in stays together with little movement or challenge as we cross the field. A marshal leads us back down the hill and the groups pace naturally speeds up. The fun is prematurely snatched from us as another marshal instructs us to do a full u-turn around a tree and back up the same hill. The tall grass adds to our woes and the group, still sticking close together, ploughs on.
1.5 miles done and we enter a second wooded trail, again restricted to single file. The track winds left and right, over tree roots lumps and bumps. There’s no chance of “whooping” without being detected so I bite my tongue.
Exiting the wood we approach the start line to the sounds of cheers, claps and a ridiculously loud vuvuzela – powered by our very own Miss Overington – ready to start our second lap. The group stays intact and as we head for the woods for the second time we start catching some of the methodical runners. Passing them along the single file track is great fun, albeit probably a scary affair for them.
At this stage I start to feel the fatigue and to avoid an internal panic I mentally reboot, briefly sinking my shoulders into my legs and forceably relaxing. It seems to work and now settling back into a rhythm I’m heartened to notice that there’s still no pain.
Passing ‘The Daughter’, full of smiles and encouragement and Miss Overington deafening me with her vevuzala the group enters the second wooded trail again. Zig zagging through it there’s a handful of spectators, cheering us on and, creepily, I spot the green figure of Mr Stunell, lurking in the bushes with a camera in his hand.
Approaching the start line for the second and final time we pass yet more crowds, including an over excitable Amercian who encourages us with more positive cliché than I thought possible.
The third and final lap and the runners in the group start trying to break away with mini surges. I’m tired but not too worried, able to lead all but Mr Snipes, and with 0.5 miles to go we all start to kick up our feet. This last section is all downhill and the whole way we can hear the electric atmosphere which pushes us on. I’ve already discounted beating Mr Snipes however refuse to drop any other places, so with 300m to go I start to make a move, breaking away from the pack who I have been with almost the entire race. My lungs start to heat up but I sense I’ve cracked it, not letting up until I reach the finish line. 11th place and the first time in over a month that I feel I’ve properly raced. Cracking stuff.
Top 3 men of the day; Mr Johnson in 26:08, James Mogridge in 26:12 and Mr Kempson in 26:29. The top 3 women were Ms Boast in 29:34, Ms Taylor in 31:13 and Ms Brown in 31:28.
Finally, here are the team standings after the first race… Albeit 12th & 13th seniors are the wrong way round!
Roll on race 2 in Bushfield. Bring on the rain, mud and face paint.