So, a few hours after representing Cambridgeshire for the first time at the Inter Regionals Cross Country event in Loughborough, I think my disappointment at my performance has finally settled enough for me to get my thoughts written down.
Holy mother forking shirtballs that was hard.
I knew stepping up to this level was going to be tough. I knew I would probably be near the back. I knew the terrain would be unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I knew, I knew, I knew. And yet I didn’t.
After a little over a 2-hour drive with my clubmate (and constant source of inspiration) Gemma, who would be running in the under 17s girls’ race, and her mum Sue, also an Ely Runner who is one of the most committed representatives (and cheerleaders!) for the club I know, we turned up about 90 minutes before my race and located the Cambridgeshire flag so that we could get our numbers. This was when the first disappointment struck – 2 of the women weren’t coming, which meant we didn’t have have enough senior women running to field a scoring team. We needed 6, but we only had 4. In some ways it felt like the pressure was off, but in another, I was so disappointed not to be able to score for my county. I had said to Gemma in the car that the worst thing that could happen was if someone bailed, as I was then travelling 80-odd miles each way, to do a race that was so far out of my comfort zone that it was practically a dot on the horizon, and for it not to make a difference.
But after chatting with my teammates Kayleigh, Elisabeth and Sarah, we all agreed that we could at least enjoy it and treat it as a training run. And I genuinely planned to do the former. Honestly. I really, truly wanted to.
But I hated nearly every second of it.
The course was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Half the course was deep, boggy mud that gripped onto my ankles like a drowning man grabbing at a buoy, sucking at my shoes and succeeding in taking one off a couple of miles from the end (I wasn’t the only victim of this judging by the abandoned spikes littering the course), losing me valuable time as I battled to shove it back on. The gaps we had between the boggiest sections offered little in the way of respite, and knowing that I had to do two laps meant that I wanted to quit time and time again, certain I couldn’t possibly make my legs fight through that mire again. And I barely could. I lost count of the number of times I had to stop to walk up the inclines, the fight to keep tears back as I felt like I was letting myself and the county down by losing the mental battle cross country represents.
The worst part was when my watch buzzed the 6 mile mark and I realised that the run was going to be significantly more than the 10km it was meant to be. This is when the need for the RunEqual campaign really hit home. It’s hard enough to qualify at 5.8km for a 10km race but for a 11.25km race? That’s nearly double. At least if we had qualified at 10km that extra 1.25km may not have been so daunting (although how British Athletics over-measured by that much I’ll never know). Come on Cambridgeshire – how can you expect to field a strong senior women team if the discrepancy between what we’re doing at a local level and the county level is so huge? THIS is why we need to be equalising our distances.
I did at least manage to finish strong, but that’s what desperation to end a nightmare will do to you. After a successful Frostbite XC at Huntingdon last week I had honestly thought I might be able to do something special, but instead I crossed the line in 56:41, 205th runner out of a field of 254, managing an average pace of around 8.07 per mile. I was devastated.
BUT – this isn’t all doom and gloom. It takes a chat with your best friends/sister/partner to give things a bit of context. Firstly – I’ve never run 10km (or 11.25km!) of cross country before. I’m a 5km road runner through and through. Also, I was only 4 minutes behind Kayleigh and 2 minutes behind Sarah, both senior women while I’m (ahem) a veteran. And I didn’t quit. Despite EVERYTHING in my body telling me to, I made it to the finish. Not everyone did. I think the thing I’m most gutted about is the fact I had to stop and walk numerous times. I lost the mental battle, and I need to work out what I can do to stop that from happening again.
I may never compete for Cambridgeshire again. Let’s face it – the older I get the less likely I am to be considered. So I’m disappointed that possibly the one time I don that blue vest the result is not what I wanted or what I believe I’m capable of. But at least I was there, and at least I have that vest and a story to tell. And perhaps more importantly, a few lessons learned.