A month or 2 ago, Mel and I signed up for this little race in the badlands of St Helens thinking it would be a nice change to our usual Sunday runs. After running the Leigh XC the day before, we arrived looking forward to a nice charming trail run somewhere different.
At 10.15am, Mel set off through the mist whilst I, being the doting husband and dad that I am, retired to the warmth of the Smithy Arms to feed a hungry baby. Imogen fed, we went to the finish to see Mel charging down to finish in a creditable 27th out of 53 runners.
At 11.15am it was my turn to run. A fun, jolly jape were the thoughts in my head as I stood on the start line. Then, everything changed. A St Helens shirt appeared on the line next to me after the heartache of a game never to be mentioned the previous evening. Fun run went out and death before dishonour took over.
The command to start was issued and off I shot. The start was a dash along a field straight into a climb. I attacked the hill. As soon as we reached its summit we were straight into a steep downhill. A muddy path one runner wide. I was carried along in the tide and before I could take a breath, I’d smashed out 1km.
By 1 mile we were running along a flat path and I was settling down. Ahead of me just was a batch of red running vests, half a dozen targets that I reeled in on the next short but sharp climb. They were a running pod of St Helens AC runners. My fight or flight kicked in again and as we dashed around a field I had picked them off and passed them. “They shall not pass,” was my new mantra. As I ran around the trails and muddy paths I thought maybe I should back off. I had run a race yesterday. Such folly thoughts were quickly dismissed as we reached our toughest climb. A 30m or so of elevation. My legs were crying as I reached the top. I had caught up to my next target. An unattached runner in blue. I went up a gear on the steep quick downhill section passing the water station and passing Mr Blue as he stopped to take on fluids. I had no time for water. It was game on.
By now I was full on eyeballs out thinking one mile to go. The winding trail paths soon became firmer again and I realised I had one last push. My Everest was ahead. I needed to run back up the hill to the waterstation. By now runners were coming down the hill on the other side having just passed their oasis. I remembered one of Mr Millington’s rules of trail running. “You can only walk an uphill if there’s no-one there to see!” My legs were screaming. The Leigh XC from the previous day was taking its toll. As was the pace. I glanced behind. The red vest just a few seconds behind and seemingly closing on was all the inspiration I needed.
This is were things get blurred, I just went on the final downhill. No looking back. No regrets. No surrender. Leave it all in Sutton Manor. I remember letting out a guttural roar and telling my self, “COME ON!” Soon I was a hundred meters or so from the line in full flight and suffering. My lungs burning and legs feeling like cramping. I crossed the line not quite being able to catch the runner who had been quite a distance ahead of me. I looked back. Job done. No red vest in sight. The pride of Wigan restored.
As a collected my medal I laughed. Not mocking or to gloat. But I remembered a conversation is had early in my Harriers career. “I run for fun, I’m not too bothered about times and places, I just want to improve.” I pondered these words and then had a moment of enlightenment. Here I was on a Sunday, locked in a battle to the death, with a set of runners I’d never met, bursting my lungs, crushing my legs with lactate, pushing myself to the limit after a XC the day before, for a meaningless place in a race I would never win. My mentality had been fun run but now I was a full blooded running psycho almost. All for 17th place.
A part of me died of that course, but like Dr Who, was reborn. After a while in the running wilderness, I’m ready to return to the Harriers pack.
Fun run, my arse!!!!! I’m having that 116th place in the next XC if it kills me… And it might just….