cross country

On Saturday morning I boarded the Kirkstall Harriers Funbus and headed down to Nottingham for the National Cross Country Championships. Fortunately the weather Gods were kind to us and it was to be a grand day out with 11 of my fellow Purple Posse.










Having run in the Northern Cross Country Championships last month I had some idea of what to expect, but this was on a much bigger scale. There were hundreds upon hundreds of runners in total, and it was quite something to see all those tents and club flags gathered in Wollaton Park.

We had plenty of time to pee, grab a coffee, eat our pre-race carbs and buy a hoody before the senior women’s race at 2.20pm.










I wasn’t quite as nervous as I was at Northerns in terms of being last or getting the course wrong, but as 700 women gathered in the marquee (what a noise) I began to wonder what the hell I was doing there. Here were a bunch of world-class athletes, many excellent club runners, and me, just out there for the fun of it. I felt out of place and well out of my depth.

As we stood in the pens and then went forward a few metres to the line I felt a little sick and had half a though to run the other way, but the gun went and I had to go forward.

The uphill start was tough – the grass was tussocky and uneven – but, once again, Jill stuck with me for a while. I eased in and as we turned the first corner to go down a slight hill I told Jill I was OK and she could go on (she ran a brilliant race with some very quick miles).

The course was incredibly pleasant. Apart from the bumpy grass around the start/finish most of it was soft and springy. The only mud was concentrated into a few boggy bits within a few hundred metres of each other in the last quarter of the lap. It was lovely squelchy, sticky mud here and I had fun trampling through it.

On my second and final lap one of the marshals shouted such lovely encouragement, telling me I looked great, so I gave him a big hug. He then told me the men were coming up behind, to which I gave a massive fist pump and shouted “YES … Why do you think I run so slow?” Hilarity did ensue.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing and I was pleased with my race. My goals were to not get lapped by the women or the men (who started 40mins after our race), to finish under and hour, and to not be last. I achieved all three, running the five-miles in 53:58.












I saw some of the men come past then headed back to our pile of bags to put on some warm clothes and wait for everyone to re-group. We all agreed that it was a fast course and a lovely experience. I am still a little in awe at being part of such an important and prestigious event, and I will definitely be back next year.



Week 9 has been rather eventful. I have run seven times (yes, really) and racked up a total of 38.5miles. Some runs were great, some were pretty rubbish.

Monday was a lovely slow recovery run, followed by another lovely run home the long way from Leeds on Tuesday morning. Wednesday I ran twice – first with two ladies from Up & Running along the canal, then I went straight on to Harriers and ran with the beginners’ group. Unsurprisingly, I rested on Thursday!

I felt like running on Friday, so I did, then Saturday I headed to Nottingham in the Kirkstall Harriers Funbus for the National Cross Country Championships, which was fab. Sunday was less fab, with a windy Snake Lane 10mile race not going to plan.

Total: 38.5 miles

(all distances in miles)

Week 10

Monday: rest

Tuesday: cross train

Wednesday: 5

Thursday: 8 (race pace)

Friday: rest

Saturday: 3

Sunday: 13.1 (Silverstone Half Marathon)

On Saturday I was delighted to be part of the Kirkstall Harriers ladies team in the Northern Cross Country Championships. Well, afterwards I was delighted. On Friday I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea.










I put my name forward ages ago, drawn in by the notion of a fun day out and being part of an important competition with my friends. But as it drew nearer I started to get a bit scared. I was OK with the predicted rain, mud, and cold. I wouldn’t have even minded if it was snowing. I knew I was going to be last, or very nearly last, and that was fine. The distance (5miles) didn’t worry me.

But then I looked at the timetable and realised that the men’s race started just 50 minutes after the women’s. There was no way I was going to be finished by then, so I started to worry about getting in the way, not being allowed to finish or going in the wrong direction. I’m not being melodramatic when I say I genuinely thought about not doing it.

I texted my good friend Jill, who told me in no uncertain terms, some of them being swear words, not to worry about it. “The fact is that we are there. Showing the speedies what we do. They are jealous cos they don’t get the same value for money we do,” Jill said. “We are fucking great anyway.” So I sucked it up and got myself ready.

As we got near to Knowsley, having laughed our way through a very random mix of conversations on the funbus, it started to rain. By the time we got to the toilets at the safari park it was absolutely bucketing down. Fortunately we had an hour before the senior women’s race so we just crossed our fingers that it would stop by then.












We killed some time watching the sealion show, which was stupendous! They are so clever! The three of them were balancing balls on their noses, catching rings, walking like seals! So funny. It certainly added a beautifully bizarre element to the day. Anyway, cross country racing …

When it was time to head over to the race area it had stopped raining, although it was still bloody cold. And by now there had been eight races, so the fields were churned up beyond recognition. With only a little cajoling, and a bit of confusion as to which pen we were supposed to be in, the KH ladies lined up for the start. By this time I just wanted to get out there, do it, and get back to a hot drink. I’m not sure my heart was really in it.

And that was the continuing theme of the race for me. I didn’t hate it. But I didn’t really enjoy it either. Indifference is about the best description for how I felt about the whole thing. I set off nice and steady with Jill and Sam, squelched through some mud, then some more, tried to get into a rhythm on the springy grass, dealt with more mud. And on it went.

It was a two-lap race for us, but I was having to have strong words with myself even before the end of lap one. When I turned a corner to be greeted by what seemed like a ridiculous hill (cue swearing) I admitted defeat and walked for a bit. And that’s how it went on. I ran (jogged/squelched) a bit, then walked a bit and finally made it round.

By the end I was a bit happier and more accepting of the whole thing, and if you’d have told me to do it again straightaway I would have done. But I wasn’t enamoured.

I didn’t quite come last, and I managed not to get lapped by either the ladies or the men, so that’s an achievement.

And I really did enjoy being part of the experience. We stood out to cheer the men for a while but when we realised we couldn’t feel our feet we went back to the cafe and waited there.

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I am glad I did it and it was a fun day out, but it wasn’t one of those joyous runs that I so often have. I’m putting it down to just not being able to get into my stride; I certainly haven’t lost my love of getting muddy. I think I was just so cold that everything had switched off. Note to self: next time take slippers for the journey home.

I have already signed up to do the National Cross Country Championships in Nottingham next month. And I am looking forward to it. Maybe the Northerns were just a warm-up for me and I’ll do better and enjoy it more now I’ve had a practice run.

I am now more than a third of the way through marathon training. Scary.

The past week has been good, although it ended up a little different from the schedule. I had to move things around a bit and cut one session short so I could take part in filming for a promo video for Le Tour Grand Depart, but it all still got done.

The weekend was the toughest I have encountered since starting running.

On Saturday I headed to Knowsley on the Kirkstall Harriers FunBus to take part in the Northern Cross Country Championships (full report to follow). Five miles of mud were unbelievably tough, but it was a great day out.

Sunday was my longest run ever – 16 miles in 3:10:11. My friends Jill and Laura joined me, for which I am very glad. It was chucking it down with rain when I left and I wouldn’t have gone if it weren’t for them. I also wouldn’t have got through the whole thing without their chats. It was so cold and the rain was relentless, which made for a tough run, but it felt easier than Saturday!

Total: 31.5 miles.

(all distances in miles)

Week 6

Monday: 4 easy + strides

Tuesday: cross

Wednesday: 5

Thursday: 6

Friday: rest

Saturday: 5

Sunday: 16 very easy

Sunday was the second PECO cross country race in the 2013-14 season and was held at Golden Acre Park. I’ve been to the park once before (a relay race this summer), so I knew to expect some hilly bits and some lovely trails. I wasn’t disappointed.

My outfit for the race was my best yet I reckon. A nice clash of various neon bits, plus my pretty new arm warmers and the headband I knitted (yes, really). Pretty sure I got laughed at a lot, but I also got some compliments. And I felt happy in my bright colours, which is all that matters. I’m also making it my mission in running to smile and look slightly unhinged in every photo. Cue hand gestures.

neon runner




















Once again there was a massive turnout, with nearly 600 senior runners lining up to tackle the 5-mile-ish course. Starting at the back means I get to see everyone meandering through the first few corners, and it’s a wonderful sight.









I’m not really “racing” these events – I just want to push on a bit and see how I can cope with it all. So after a steady start chatting with some fellow Harriers I got my head down and settled in to a steady run. In between cheering my club-mates as the course snaked back on itself, posing for the cameras and throwing various bits of attire at our cheer squad (it soon got a bit warm for gloves and headband) I tried to be mindful of my breath and my body. I thought about my feet and my hips and about the air filling me with energy.

The course was three laps, but it didn’t feel like you were going round and round. Knowing the nasty little hills were coming up was actually good – it gave me a reason to push on a bit before I got to them so that I wouldn’t lose too much time. I had to laugh at the lady I passed near the end who was angry that there were hills – apparently she read “on the internet” that it was flat! I don’t think a cross country race has ever been flat, so I’m not sure where she got that from or why she believed it!

The finish was also uphill, and I was so done-in by that point I just kept going forwards and hoped for the best. I finished in around 52 minutes, which I am pleased with. My pace was fairly steady throughout and I gave it all I had. A fun morning with a lot of great people.

With thanks to Malcolm, Ian Watson and Woodentops for photos.

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Cross country always seemed a pretty soul-destroying venture. In high school we had a thing called the “double loop”, which was a circuit of about one mile through fields and on gravelly tracks. As the name suggests, at the whim of the PE teachers we were instructed to do it twice.  In whatever weather we were lucky enough to get. Wearing bottle green shorts and gold socks and tee. It wasn’t pleasant.

But now that I have come to enjoy running, cross country season has become something that I have been looking forward to the past few weeks.

The local race circuit is the PECO Cross Country League, a series of five races between November and March. Each one is hosted by two local clubs and there is a lot of friendly competition among the runners.

The first race this weekend was at Temple Newsam Park, which I know a little as I sometimes do the parkrun there. I was promised hills and mud, and wasn’t disappointed.

All the local clubs were out in force for this inaugural race of the 2013-14 season, and it was great to see all the colours and the flags. At Kirkstall Harriers we have a purple gazebo, and this was much appreciated when it started to rain. There were more than 650 runners I have heard, which is a fantastic turnout.

KH PECO runners

PECO start line Temple Newsam A snake of runners























The route was approx 4.6miles, although my watch had a bit of a fit and must have lost satellite signal as it came up way short, and there were several hills, plenty of mud and even a bit of banter along the way.

































I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was hard work. The mud was nice and sticky, and the hills short and sharp. There was also some great support, from non-running club mates and the marshals.

Despite starting off thinking I was going to freeze in my short sleeves it wasn’t so bad, and next time I’ll embrace the cross country runner mentality and venture out in short shorts. By the way, do you like the neon pink knee-highs?! They make it so much easier to spot myself in photos!

Afterwards I realised just how shattered I really was. This race felt harder than it probably should have done, and I think I am still exhausted from all the hard runs and training recently. As I blogged yesterday, I’ll be having a bit more rest this week as I don’t want to get to the start of marathon training still tired. I started with a lie-in this morning – I didn’t set an alarm and it was 10am before I woke up! I had slept right through the night too! Definitely a sign of a tired Gemma.

My first PECO cross country experience was great fun and I’m looking forward to the next race in three weeks. Bring on the mud!