National XC – The Ladies Race

10991262_10206335993504334_5937479017588896357_nAlready in London, my nationals started with a 5:30am text from Bill saying that he’d forgotten to bring my wellies. Great. Back to sleep for a few hours before getting up for a pre-parliament hills parkrun. On the way I was blessed with Facetime live from the back of the bus where they all looked like they were having a lot of fun in their Where’s Wally onesies.
Arrived at Gladstone Parkrun to find other North-Easterners has chosen it as their nationals warm up.  “There’s people here who have come all the way from Durham” announced the Race Director, “Durham?!” I cried “I’ve come from Gateshead, man!” before I realised just how loud I was.  I reassured the unconvinced parkrunners from Riverside and Darlington that, despite what the race director said, Gladstone’s big hill was no-where near as bad as anything in Saltwell Park or anything we were going to face that afternoon.
After the parkrun & porridge I set off to the meet the arriving Hoops.  There’s nothing like lugging 30kgs of luggage up the stairs of the tube to make sure you stay warm!  The slow drag up from Hamstead Heath station was particularly challenging.  Eventually the hoops arrived & we set off to Parliament Hills with Phil James videoing everything for posterity.
The realisation of just how muddy and hilly this course was began to dawn on people as we spotted the juniors running past covered in mud.  We found the first spot of grass without dog dirt and the men started to pitch the tent.  Gillian set off to buy a hoody but the rest of us decided not to bother as there was no way anything would be as good as the Del Boy Candlish 2015 Saltwell range.
The next hour was mainly spent by the girls sitting in the tent rocking, wondering what on earth we were doing on a Saturday afternoon and worrying about whether we started at 2 or twenty past before the six of us set off down the big hill to our doom.
Shivering and complaining about how muddy it was we arrived in our pen.  “I’ve lost my signal” cried Lisa DP.  “Well you’d better get it back because if you can’t uploap this to Strava later then it doesn’t count!” I replied.  We all edged forward and waited, fingers on Garmin buttons.
1000 or so women charged towards the big muddy hill and past the lads with shouts of go on Saltwell ringing in our ears.  Off around the corner I started to panic that I’d done my usual trick of setting off way way too fast and wondered how on earth I was going to pace myself without Jacqui to chase.
Even this early into the course it was obvious that this was way worse than either Pontefract or Bedewell.  Muddy, really muddy, and with a beautiful aroma of horse manure.  I had a quick look around to try to spot some more hoops as we hit a downhill section then just as we started to climb an Aykeley Heads-esque hill I spotted someone I recognised, Vicki Thompson of the NEHL, and decided to follow her instead of running with all of these strange club vests.
I was actually enjoying the run and feeling ok towards the end of the first lap when we once again passed the lads & their shouts of encouragement.  That was until I remembered that 1 lap wasn’t actually half way on this course because we were running a medium and a large lap.
Up, down and back up through the quagmire we went and I spotted another hoop in front of me.  Wondering who it was I picked up the pace to get closer before realising it was an imposter.  Another club rocking the hoops!
I was starting to get sick of the relentless mud when we hit a new section and started to double back on each other.  I heard a few shouts of encouragement from other North-East clubs and tried to return them but I wasn’t really in the mood to speak by this point.  Probably for the best, as it meant I couldn’t say anything to the lying marshals who kept telling me that it was all down hill from here.  It wasn’t.  Ever.
By this point in the race I decided I wanted to go home.  Being ankle deep in mud had totally lost its appeal and I was getting slower by the second.  Every time I heard heavy breathing on my shoulder I convinced myself that this time it must be a Saltwellian and was disappointed not to see a friendly face.  I kept glancing at my watch wondering just how long 8km was in miles but was too brain dead to do the maths. 
I’d cheerily said at the start not to worry and that it was only 45mins of our lives but it felt pretty depressing when I’d been running for 46 minutes and still couldn’t see the finish.  I’d just about accepted that death was imminent when I heard the noise of 3000 blokes trudging through mud and realised that they’d set off and I must be nearly there after all.  What a relief as the course passed through the trees and I could actually see the inflatable arch of the finish line.  More importantly, it was downhill!  As we turned the corner onto the flat I tried to sprint for the finish line but it was probably more of a slow splodge to cross the line in 48.03.
I took the chip off and got a celebratory hug from Lisa Atkinson of Gateshead Harriers before walking back towards the finish line to see two more hoops, Nicola and Lisa, running together to cross the line in 50:46 and 50:48 respectively.  The three of us were there to cheer Gillian home in 53:58, Sam in 54:39 and Lisa in 55:02.
Excellent running Ladies!!
Claire Lloyd