A first foray into Cross Country – East Kilbride Open 18 Jan 2014

Looking at the competitors after each of the races at the inaugural East Kilbride Athletics Club Cross Country at Jackton today reminded me of the Asaro Mud Men I met in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea (Asaro Mud Men by kahunapulej, on Flickr). To say the going was ‘heavy’ is as much of an understatement as a Lady Gaga costume.
On paper it looked like a walk in the park, and as I’m such a fan of a run in the park, I thought I’d give it a go. I took my daughter Joy along as she loves getting muddy and like me, had never tried a Cross Country event before. Arriving just after 1pm we were directed to the overflow car park. An encouraging sign that the event was well attended. We wandered up the farm track and eventually found the rather empty registration area in a sports hall hidden amongst the numerous farm buildings. Despite being met with a curt “Girls over that side”, the organisers thankfully took my word for it that I was male, and that in addition to Joy entering the girls race, I wanted to run in the veteran mens race and I was on the right side after all.
With numbers pinned on it was time to make our way to the swamp field where the under eleven boys and girls had just finished. I’ve seen people return from two weeks in Tenerife looking paler than those mud darkened legs and faces. Joy was relishing the challenge ahead at the same time as I was wondering what a crazy idea this was and whether I could get my money back.
The under 15 race was about 4km, or two big laps of the course and Joy duly took off, the only non club runner in her category. She really enjoyed the experience – once it was over – and despite finishing towards the back of race is keen to do it again.
There were one or two faces I recognised and I was chatting to Stephen Prentice (Bellahouston Harriers) when fellow Bella Peter Goodwin appeared. Bella Hayleigh McCrorie was also on hand to provide support for the Bellas (and her other half running for Shettleston), which was very much appreciated.
Having seen the state of the course, I resolved it was a day to try and simply get round safely and leave the PB for another day. At 4 laps and just over 5 miles I was certain I’d bitten off more than I could chew. My enthusiasm had triumphed over my inexperience to get me there, but then done a runner at the first sign of adversity. At least the weather was fine. Although pouring in the morning it had brightened up with warm winter sunshine taking the edge off the January chill. Ideal conditions for running. Ideal for running in a park that is, and I’d decided that whatever this was, it wasn’t a park.
We lined up at the start and from the off I sprinted straight to the back of the pack and tried valiantly to hold onto that position. I may have managed it too if it wasn’t for an unattached runner who finished after me. Every step of those 4, arduous laps risked losing a shoe. Every step left your feet carrying kilos of excess mud like concrete overshoes. Even the downhill sections didn’t allow you really to gain momentum, the terroire insisting on holding you back. I was quite surprised then, that in the end I was only lapped by 4 runners (4th placed Chris Greenhalgh of Giffnock North lapped me with 10 meters to go).
Reflecting now, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed the whole experience. After all, it’s not every day you get to look like an Asaro Mud Man from PNG.