It’s just after silly o’clock AM during a recovery run. Spotify clicks another song into place and my mind wanders back to the previous weekends race: Frostbite Friendly League Race #3, and I recall cake, mud, excitement, mud, fast opponents… And mud.
Before I realise what’s happening my easy recovery run is anything but easy or recovery like; and I found myself tearing through the inky winter darkness, scaring dog walkers, jumping over car bonnets and contending for Strava course records (well…almost).
Hinchingbrooke Country Park in Huntingdon – birthplace of Oliver Cromwell – played host to the 3rd episode of the Frostbite Friendly League Series (5 ish mile) run and after an hours drive, conquering the thick morning fog we sneak into an already wooded car park, pinching the last (and best) space. Good start.
As we squelch down a muddy track toward the Countryside Centre (a good sized building next to a field which will be our start line), once thing is blatantly obvious: Things are going to get wet and muddy.
Once we find our Club’s spot in the Country Centre, bags are dropped, layers are shed and I join the Club’s Juniors for a warm up before their 1 and a half something mile race due to start at 10:15am.
Under Starter’s orders, 162 9-16 year olds line up on the field and a deathly silence hangs in the air. I’m almost certain others can hear my heart pounding in my chest as my excitement grows in anticipation until finally the Starter’s gun cracks the peace wide open; and they’re off!
Less than 10 minutes later, small people are bursting through the woods, pelting themselves toward the finish line; their backs distinctly more brown and mud-like in colour than earlier. As usual, they put many of us Old People to shame, with looks of pure grit and determination etched across their faces as they each cross the line.
I wait for ‘The Daughter’ to emerge onto the final straight and realise my fists are clenched; my brain filled with a mix of fear and excitement: Irrationally, this is always the most nervous I will be during such a day .
13 minutes have passed since the start and suddenly my shoulders drop and my hands relax as I see ‘The Daughter’ approaching the finish, fast. Her legs are going like the clappers as she tries desperately to catch another girl some 5 meters in-front of her. She doesn’t relent, narrowly beating the other girl to the finish line. I instantly feel the hairs on the back of my neck tingle. Cracking stuff.
11am approaches and I join 381 seniors who crowd onto the starting line. A dedication is made to Adrian Jarvis, chair of the Frostbite League for 15 years who recently passed away…
Nerves grip me more than normal, partly because I fear road racing shoes aren’t going to be my friend today but also hoping I make it round… The clock ticks slowly. Impatience begins to take hold of Miss Overington… Meanwhile, a mud fight breaks out… Coincidence? Maybe. But a welcome distraction, certainly.
We’re soon brought to task by the Starter and a thick silence grips the crowd as we brace for the gun to fire. Within 3 strides of the start I’ve almost fallen face down in the mud losing a lot of ground on the first 30 runners. Quickly recovering I force myself calm by focusing on posture and naturally easing into a rhythm.
Across the field we move onto a pathway and my feet regain some grip allowing me to naturally make up places. Race dumbness has gripped me and I’m not sure where I’m positioned, so just focus on putting one foot in front of the other faster than the person directly ahead of me.
We continue along a pathway for a few minutes until we hit grass trail which is soft underfoot and leads us uphill into trees. My grip falters again and I focus on finding harder ground. The result being I run a totally different line to everyone ahead of me balancing my strides on the very edge of the trail, forcing enthusiastic spectators to jump back so not to be trampled. Fortunately, today, there are no insults hurled nor fists shook in my direction for the single disarming fact that, once again, I am sporting a dangerously short, fetchingly sparkly, green skirt.
Still blind to my race position, albeit almost certain I’ve just been asked out by a frisky member of the crowd, I push on as best I can, forcing calmness with deep breaths and dropped shoulders. The muddy trail leads us out of the wood and back toward the car park and as the ground turns harder underfoot I start making up places, feeling the speed naturally pick up. I feel strong and fresh at this point, suddenly hearing a marshal shout out “7th” as I pass. I’ve recovered from race dumbness and I quickly catch up with 4th and 3rd (2nd and 1st are long gone) and as we are led onto a stretch of concrete pavement I settle myself in this group, my mind wandering into thoughts of what could be.
A mile or so later, we are then led back toward the Country Park and pavement turns to path. All remains calm. I feel my breathing ease and my heartrate drop…
The 4th mile is reached as I approach a second loop of the muddy woodland trail, albeit this time after 383 pairs of feet have already trampled across it and my legs slip and slide underneath me. I swear at one point I start going backwards as I focus more on staying upright rather than retaining pace. The damage is swift as I lose 4 places and my head drops in resignation as we crest the last hill of the course. All runners in front of me stick to the left of the track however again I stay on the right, trapped through fear of disappearing into the mud, never to be seen again.
I sense the finish is not far off as we pass the car park for the second time and I use a small descent to take back two places, now 7th and focussing on 6th place whom I plan to out kick in the final stretch. 400m to go within the last bit of woodland and I stay 5 strides behind him, steeling myself for one last push.
We emerge from the wood to a sea of noise and cheers, hitting grass with the finish line in sight and I start to kick harder. I am on my toes and gaining but as I try to grasp more power from my legs I slip and slide, yelling out in frustration and finishing in 7th.
Whilst warming down and cheering my teammates in, I reflect on the last mile and conclude that I let myself down. Bravery didn’t prevail today. Despite this I can’t stop smiling, thinking about my mud covered clothes, ruined skirt, a possible date and the fact that The Club finished in 4th – their best team result for a long time.
Easily my favourite Frostbite course so far. Can Frostbite #4 be tomorrow please..? Roll on January & 2016.