An interesting few days…
Let’s just say the last few days have been *interesting*, in more than one way. My trip to Leeds for the English Schools XC champs started Friday, leaving Brighton at 1pm on the Sussex coach. The first couple of hours went by quite quickly because I was with my chums (Beth, Immy & Alice), but after that it started to drag. 7.5 hours on the coach started to feel more like 20. We stopped at a couple of service stations, but they didn’t really break up the journey. Anyway, we eventually arrived at the Ibis styles hotel where we’d be spending the night and got to bed around 10:30pm. Apart from the fact that the pillow was the most uncomfortable thing I’d ever lain on (my neck hurt so much the next day omg), I managed to get a decent(ish) night’s sleep.
Okay, maybe caps were a bit unnecessary. But ya know, we had a breakfast buffet. And if you don’t get excited about that kinda stuff then I don’t know what you’re doing with your life if I’m honest. Anyway, let’s just say I was pretty relieved that they had porridge – my typical pre-race brekkie – and I stocked up on aaaalll the toppings. So far, so good.
The return of the “Beast from the East”
There had been weather warnings the night before the race, but it had been so warm on Friday that none of us really believed them. Well, as usual, we were wrong. Looking outside the window, a small layer of snow had already started to settle, but it wasn’t until we stepped outside that we realised how cold it was. This is probably where my mum will be thinking “I told you so”, because she’d advised me to take another (thicker) coat and I’d refused at the time, thinking I had enough clothes as it was. How wrong I was… We had a 30 minute coach journey from our hotel to the race venue, and on the motorway we encountered a bit more snow than we’d have liked. The Sussex team managers were getting quite stressed and called the race organisers to check it was still on, and thankfully it was because to be quite honest, having spent 7.5 hours on the coach the day before, we were all quite keen to actually do what we’d come up to do. Even if it was freezing.
Pardon the awful attempt at rhyme, but I couldn’t resist 😉 We were basically the first team to arrive, and after setting up our tents a few of us legged it to the New Balance Merchandise tent. I knew they’d have limited stock of their limited edition NBES 2018 hoodie, so I was desperate to make sure I’d get my hands on one. Especially since this year was my last ES race ever. Purchase complete, I was pretty quick to put it on because it had started to snow again and I couldn’t feel my extremities. Or anything really. We were a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a photobooth like last year (free as well), and since we’d arrived 5.5 hours before our race we didn’t have much else to do. Therefore the waiting game had officially begun.
*Attempted* course walk
Due to the recent snow melt from the last “Beast from the East” coupled with the near-constant rain over the past week, the ground conditions at Temple Newsam (race location) was atrocious. It didn’t look too bad, but it was completely saturated. In order to preserve the course, we weren’t allowed to properly walk the course but had to go on the outskirts of the route. We forgot to bring a map on our walk so ended up only going over 1km or so of it – but to be honest, I was so cold I didn’t really care at this point. I just wanted to get back into the tent.
Not quite frost bite…
But very nearly. I have NEVER been so cold in my life. NEVER. End of. Sub-zero temperatures combined with a freezing “arctic” wind and intermittent snow, it really was like being in a freezer. I had a base layer, vest, t-shirt, two hoodies and a wind-breaker on and I was still shivering like mad. At one point the team managers gave me a body warmer to put on top too because I looked (and was) so incredibly cold. It was only after wearing this high-tech piece of gear that I started to feel more human than iceberg.
Warm up time
In all honesty, it was more of a “become less cold” than a “warm up”. From all the shivering my legs felt quite dead and I was starting to feel a bit nervous as I didn’t want to have an awful end to the XC season. I also felt a bit dehydrated due to the wind and snow, so things weren’t looking too good. However, I knew that everyone was in the same boat so I tried not to let it affect me too much and just be grateful for the opportunity to run.
An extra layer of snow…
And a few less layers of clothes. At the start line, after stripping down into our shorts and vest (with base layer underneath as well as gloves and ear warmers for the first time ever in a race!), everyone was freezing in the starting pens. It felt like forever before the gun finally went off. Coincidentally (just our luck!), a mini-blizzard started at exactly the same time and we found ourselves truly battling the elements in the first kilometre. Unlike last year, the course was also quite hilly, so coupled with the churned up mud, gale-force winds and snow the conditions were extremely challenging. But in some weird, twisted way it made it a bit more interesting and whilst I can’t say I enjoyed it all the way, it definitely wasn’t as bad as I expected. Apart from the traffic and runner congestion right at the start of the race which significantly slowed me down, I managed not to start too far behind and steadily overtook people.
The “make or break” moment
Roughly ¾ of the way through, I started to tire a bit (to be expected I guess!). On the last beastly hill, a couple of girls actually collapsed. This was the point which I really had to exert myself and just focus on a) keeping moving, b) not falling over and c) not losing my shoe in the mud. It wasn’t especially wet mud, but it was extremely sticky and it felt like I had a field stuck to each shoe. The last 500m had a short downhill stretch but finished on a 250m uphill gradient, and this really killed me. Unfortunately, a few people did overtake me here, but in the last 50m – the muddiest stretch – I gave it everything I had. Absolutely everything. I had no idea how I’d done, but I felt like I’d given it my all, and my team mate Alice finished a split second behind me. It was so lovely to have each other at the end to basically collapse into each other’s arms, and we headed over to where Immy (who’d already finished) was waiting for us.
A little mix-up
Immy and Alice went to buy the results sheet whilst Beth and I helped pack up the tent, and annoyingly there’d been a mix-up with the chip timers. Beth’s name came up under my number, and an “unknown” runner came up under hers. Hopefully it’ll be sorted out, but I was still over the moon to find out that I’d come 134th out of 323 runners (a 63 place improvement from last year!). Despite everything, I managed to have my best run possible and am so pleased with how I did. I mean, maybe I could’ve done better but I’ll never know and I’d rather stay positive than think about “what if”.
Right now, I’m rounding off this post as we drive home from Leeds. I have no idea what time we’ll get back to Brighton at, but fingers crossed the snow won’t delay us at all. Sorry this post has ended up being so huge, but it was such an eventful weekend I had so much to write! I’m off to France on Monday for a couple of weeks, and will be getting down to some solid revision in the run up to A-levels. I may also take a little break from running pre-track season just to give my legs a rest, but we’ll see how my body feels. Well done if you raced too, I’m sure you smashed it. Even if you’re not pleased with how you did, remember that it’s an achievement in itself to get selected to run at ES, and the conditions were so atrocious that everyone deserves a medal for racing imo.
As always, I hope you enjoyed this blog post and thank you for reading (if you’re still here at this point!). Also I apologise for the lack of running photos, there wasn’t an official event photographer and I couldn’t find many of me on Flickr…