Some time in November I was encouraged to take part in the Uxbridge Met League fixture. Adjectives such as “fun” and “enjoyable” were thrown around as captain Santry coerced the men who had a) never done XC before; or b) had forgotten exactly how brutal it is, to take part. And so on 1 December a huge field (or flock I suppose) of Eagles descended on the world renowned Hillingdon Athletics Stadium ready to take on the infamous “ski slope” and the raging river/stream/brook (delete as you feel appropriate) that this fixture offers.
As advertised, at “not before 1.55pm” an elderly lady slowly reached into a backpack and removed a gun which was briefly pointed in our direction. Luckily it turned out to be a starting pistol and the ladies tore off through the rain, wind and mud to be the first of the club to take on this course. We men meanwhile stayed wrapped up and slightly smug as we briefly forgot we still had to do this. The start resembled not so much a race as an all out charge as the ladies jostled for position and swiftly disappeared into the next field never to be seen again (well not for a little while anyway). The course was to take in a couple of deceptively easy looking hills before descending to the bottom of the ski slope at which point spikes seemed inappropriate and crampons would have been preferable.
As the ladies emerged towards the river they were met by inspirational cheers of encouragement from a selection of the men’s team (who were also filming the crossing in case of any amusing incidents) before the charge (or in some cases queue) to ford. Shortly after, the rest of the men’s teams smiles started to fade as the ladies tore towards the finish line very wet, muddy and exhausted and reality of the task at hand set in.
And so, with my anxiety levels increasing following some feedback on the course including such words as “tough”, “muddy” and “brutal”, I lined up with the rest of the men’s team as the elderly lady once again reached into her bag in slow motion for the starting pistol. The gun went off and I got caught up in the initial excitement, running at a pace I knew I had to drop, despite a sea of other men still overtaking (a theme that would sadly continue for the entire race). We too attacked the first hills as John, Jose, Laurence and Oliver disappeared into the distance, not to be seen again. As my lungs burnt and my heart threatened to explode I looked at my watch to see how many miles we’d covered. 5? 10? 15? Apparently only 1.3. Still a way to go. Spikes scratching on the gravelly ski slope I briefly made some places only to see those I had overtaken tear past me on the muddy descent. Knowledge of where I was on the course disappeared as my focus turned to purely being able to continue, eventually emerging at the raging torrent (I’m sure it had got much deeper by the time the men got there). A fairly comfortable crossing (the only part that was comfortable) made me happy I’d invested in spikes this year rather than running in road shoes. It would only be later in the day that I realised we had been filmed by Linney and therefore should have watched our language. Shortly after we were all reminded that this was in fact a 2 lap course and off we went again. Another ascent of the ski slope (briefly worrying about altitude sickness) and another attack on the river followed and we finally emerged towards the finish line. With a usual good sprint finish my brain sent the message to my legs to do what they always do. Unfortunately they were not in agreement and slowed down in protest. Somehow the finish line was achieved and the race was over. My ever-loving wife rushed to meet me and proceeded to make me feel better, consoling me with comments such as “where were you?” and “I thought you’d stopped”.
The customary cool down was begun with us blindly following Sam who had clearly decided that he was not enjoying his shoes being dry any more and so back through the river we went. Battered and bruised (one of our number had been savagely attacked by a bridge mid race) we stumbled off to the Fig Tree for some well earned beers.
I remember finishing and promising never again, however as I write this now I’m already feeling like me and that course have unfinished business. I’ll be back…
For those of you who have not done this course or even any XC here are some inspiring reviews from some of the team:
Wei – “Great fun today! Love the river crossing and great fun. Lots of support. Next time don’t trip!”
Carlo – “Great race, hard but great fun!”
Tom – “After much nagging from Keiran, I finally turned up for a Met League fixture. I can thoroughly recommend it, although compared to watching Spurs (the reason for previous absences) it’s not quite there”
James – “Think I need swimming lessons after the river. Hard run but fun!”
Anne – “Great day for a swim”
Jess – “Now THAT’S cross country! Not sure what I enjoyed more – running through the river or laughing at all the men falling over in it after. Brutal.”
Hayley – “There was a young lady who swallowed a fly… and then she vommed”
Fiona – “Loved that so much, but the queue for the river was a bit slow! I’ll try to be less pathetic in future (please refer to the FB video for Fiona’s dainty entrance into the river)”
Oliver – “Got a stitch”
Cam – “Great creek!”
Abi – “That fucking river crossing!!”
Sophie – “Fave XC course! Water feature rocks!!”
Simon – “That was a proper x-country! Loved it”
Colin – “I’ve done a few XC in my time. Never before been required to ford a river. I have gained a life skill”
Laurence – “Great river crossing. Best race of the season. Best moment was all the lads going through the river on cool down”
Jo – “I can die happy now I’ve done my first XC with a river crossing. Challenging but exciting race and the sun came out!”
Matt – “Why? Never again (until next year)”