Report submitted by Neil Capstick
||Aykley Heads X Country
||0 – Not a chance! Too many hills and too much mud.
||4 – Very well attended.
||5 – Spot on and the results are posted quickly considering the numbers. Good car parking too.
||4 – Pretty good but when running your head will be pointed at the floor.
|Value for money
||5 – It’s a quid! Cheap as chips from the really cheap chip shop.
||2 – Not for the faint hearted.
|Club support and social
||5 – Well supported with lots of cheering especially from the Junior Bounders
||A character building run, with mud, hills and more mud and hills.
Hobbit in the Mud
The day started reasonably well. I had a little bit of a lie in, was picked up punctually and travelled to the course in good time to see some of the Juniors’ race, and all of the Ladies’.
It was all downhill from there really – or should that be uphill? Either way, I was about to experience the hardest run of my life.
I was not initially going to run Aykley Heads as I did not really think X Country was for me. I had run at Cramlington and it all seemed a lot of fuss and a lot of time for a relatively short six miles. A couple of days before the event one of the Bounders walked the course and posted some photographs on FaceBook, saying it would be muddy; very muddy indeed. This made me rethink. X Country is supposed to be about mud and Cramlington had been like the Sahara so I figured that I should have one more go before making my mind up completely.
I had run Cramlington in spikes and I didn’t fancy running in them again to be honest. They had hurt my foot a little and I prefer more cushioning. I undertook a little research and after a last minute Friday afternoon dash to Start Fitness, bought some Mud Claws.
Here I was, lined up at the start, ready to go. I had positioned myself near the finish line of the Ladies’ race to watch them storm home and to offer some encouragement. I was a little surprised to see them coming in looking so tired. Some were covered from head to toe in mud but all of them looked completely wiped out. I mean, how hard could it be?
The gun went off and I was caught off guard. I was positioned right at the back and so had some ground to make up. The first mile was a doddle and I really enjoyed it. After about a mile there was a really steep downhill section. It was covered in mud, and at the bottom of the hill was a hairpin right hand turn straight into a very steep incline. Laps 2 and 3 saw the Bounders “Ladies” standing here allegedly cheering everyone on. In reality they had selected the spot most likely to end in a near death experience for any over-confident male runner who slipped – oh how they laughed/cackled! Like the mythical Sirens, they gave men the power to destroy themselves by screaming encouragement to them to run faster down the hill only to laugh themselves into an incontinent fit when someone fell.
At the first hill I flung myself into it. I mean, I really, really went for it. The guy in the shop had said there was no way I would slip with Mud Claws, so I figured I would chance it. It was exhilarating to say the least and I flew down the hill passing lots of tiptoeing runners and never slid a millimetre. Down to the bottom I went, swinging right, past the cackling “support” group (with a disappointed look on their faces as my footing remained intact) and into the hill.
Then the worst race of my life began. I don’t know if I had overdone my run the day before, whether it was the much lower heel drop of the Mud Claws, or just the hills, but my calf muscles began to scream. So bad was it that I had to slow and so it remained for the rest of the lap, the only respite being another very steep muddy downhill section which I enjoyed enormously.
At the end of lap one I was finished and wanted to stop. There was absolutely no way I was going to make it. My legs were aching and I just couldn’t see any way of mustering up the energy to complete the race. I ran on but slowed considerably.
The pain lasted until about a third of the way round the second lap, until I hit the downhill section. Relief was short lived though because as soon as I had to climb the pain returned. This pattern was repeated at every up and downhill section and how I finished the race I don’t know. Running along the finishing straight I was a spent force and I was in the last 25% of finishers. This race was the hardest I have ever run and I have run marathons and ultras!
A special thanks must go to the supporters who cheered the runners all along the course. I do know that one set of Bounders who were shouting encouragement at me were met by a very harsh glare and a stream of sweat as I turned my head. Sorry, but it was a bad day at the office.
My report would not be complete without a description of the mud. There was lots of it. The depth varied from about an inch to perhaps six inches in places. The mud was not soaking wet, squirt up your leg mud, but more of a paste which grabbed your foot. The mud did not try to pull your shoe off like the wet stuff but closed in over your foot and made it difficult to stride. On the hills and corners the mud was lethal, not as deep but cleverer. It laid in wait and surprised you, like a naughty child that pokes its leg out to trip you and then giggles and runs off. Only the mud did not run off, it just waited for the next lap.
I slipped a lot on the uphill but I don’t blame the Mud Claws. I have an unusual running style which means my feet point out a little more than most and this meant I kept losing my footing as my foot slipped behind and to the side of me.
When I had finished the race my spirits were lifted a little when I heard everyone say they too had found it very hard. I reviewed the results later and it was with some disappointment that I discovered my very poor placing. I guess I will stick to road running; at least there I don’t disgrace myself.
On the other Hobbit foot, perhaps I should go to Wallington Hall this weekend…