This was my first outing in a Harriers’ vest (kindly loaned to me by my husband Mark, who had persuaded me to join Harriers in January, and then made a suggestion that I should give the Standish Hall Trail 10K a go!) Every time I’ve been to watch Mark in this race, the sun has been shining and the wind has been barely above a gentle breeze. It was a pleasurable experience and the figure of 8ish loop meant that there are great spectator opportunities. But not today! Today was cold, rainy, windy and just plain miserable! The sort of day where I would happily not move from my couch, watch a box set of some sort and munch through a vat of chocolate, were it not for the fact that this was my planned run for the day, and it was either this or sitting on my backside making the usual excuses for not managing to fit a run into my busy schedule.
Now I’m a plodder (at the moment). I try to take in the surroundings, feel glad that I can get out for a trot and generally enjoy the race experience. Today was different. I was wearing a Harriers’ vest. I was part of a team. I was no longer, “Unattached!” It felt good!
Standing on the start line alongside: Dave Collins, Jayne Taylor, Mike Clayton, Stuart Towns, Kellyanne Towns, Danielle Brearton and Alan Boyle, I listened intently to the race director’s pre race safety talk, especially taking in the notes about the mud, the tree that’s come down across the path in the woods, moving over if you’re a slow runner – what had I let myself in for? I weaved my way to the back of the field, keen to keep out of the way as much as possible.
At 2:30 we set off along the path with some big puddles, much to the amusement of my 4 year old, who was doing her best Peppa Pig impression. An excitable Red Rose runner decided to jump heavily into every single one of them, doing his best Peppa Pig impression, in a bid to get us all used to the water, because, “You’re going to get wet anyway!” So 0.1 mile in and I’m already soaked and cold but the face is still smiling!
Running along the path to the crossroads, I see Mark and Nancy cheering me on which is a welcome sight. But I know what’s coming next! Mark had dragged me out on Monday to this very place, so I had a bit of an idea about the race. We had bounced down this path on Monday and today, we were going up it on the first lap. I kept an even pace (I think – The Swinley Hill sessions have taught me a thing or two about that!) and soon(ish) reached the top, greeted by a marshal who sent us onto a muddy path with more puddles. At least I could recover a bit here as I weaved in and out of the puddles before starting on the descent to where Mark and Nancy were waiting again. I enjoyed this descent, as I knew that I was going to have to be shuffling back up it again shortly – a thought I did not relish!
Turning the corner, I could see and hear Mark and Nancy cheering along with a few others who were cheering the vest – that felt good! I could see the runners spread out ahead of me, disappearing off into the woods. I wondered if I was last. I wasn’t bothered if I was. I had already decided that I would enter this race again in October and smash this time, so this was my PB and I was going to enjoy it. There was a lovely path, weaving down into the woods and this was where I saw Jayne and Danielle coming out of the woods, just as I was going in. I felt proud to be part of the team. I felt inspired to train properly.
A thin trail meant that a few of us had bunched up together, just before we turned right into the mud pit. Thanks to the front runners, there had been a bit of a path trodden down, but there were still some unexpected squelches. Another few marshals cheered on the vest, which gave me encouragement to dig in up the muddy hill, over the fallen tree and continue going up and up and up, until we reached a sharp right turn onto the thin path back to the crossroads. This is where I looked down from my elevated position, and noticed the leader was on his way. How do they do it? It looked effortless to him, like he was gliding. I let him pass me and watched him disappear rapidly into the distance, as I slipped and slid all over the place, resembling Bambi on ice, occasionally becoming ankle deep in mud. Great fun!
I squelched up the path, knowing that I’d have to repeat this again, and knowing that the gradual ascent was going to continue, right past Mark and Nancy and right up to the lovely marshal in the red coat. It felt like a long way. I’d also got Monday fresh in my mind, when I turned to Mark and said, “I feel like I’m going backwards!” Still, more cheers and encouragement for me and the vest meant that it was time to dig in and suck it up – after all there’s a great descent coming up! Back up to the top, time to weave in and out of the puddles in the other direction this time and then enjoy some downhill, recovery time. The rain was horizontal, the wind was blowing too and all I could think about was one word – invigorating.
I bounced down and down (in my head I resembled a gazelle; in reality I resembled Phoebe from Friends!) until I came back to the woods, where lots of runners were coming out as I was going in – most of the Harriers were on the final stretch now. I felt more confident to face the mud head on and squelched through it. I weaved through the gate (“Do the front runners jump over it?”), staggered over the fallen tree, shuffled back up the mud path to the sharp right hand turn back on the single file path. I didn’t even bother trying to find a suitable path this time – I trudged right through it slapping my tired feet through every puddle.
Nearly back at the crossroads, I could hear Mark and Nancy still enthusiastically cheering me on. It must have been grim being a spectator – sorry guys, but your support was invaluable. I turned left back onto the path, heading for home.
It was a welcome sight seeing the rest of the Harriers trotting back out for a cool down, cheering me on for the final few steps. I put in a spurt and gave it everything I’d got. I’d done it and it felt great, even if it did take me 1 hour 7 minutes and 9 seconds.
It was a great result for the rest of the Harriers: Stuart Towns came 8th in 42:21, Dave Collins came 12th in 43:15, Mike Clayton came 15th in 43:49, Jayne Taylor came 32nd in 46:29, Danielle Brearton came 43rd in 47:25, Kellyanne Towns came 72nd in 50:18, Alan Boyle came 155th in 1 hour 4 minutes and 52 seconds and then there was me: 161st out of 174.
The race was a great challenge. I hadn’t trained much at all and I went out and enjoyed it. Well done to all of the Harriers today – lots of who won prizes for their achievements. I even came away with a bottle of wine, due to making up the numbers for the Women’s team to be the overall winners. Bonus! I feel truly inspired and part of a great team. To anyone who is reading this and is thinking about joining Wigan Harriers or any running club for that matter, all I can say is, “Do it!” You don’t have to be a great runner. You just have to enjoy running. Thanks for the support fellow Harriers – I think it’s time to buy my own vest!
By Leanne Hillam-Morgan