Herefordshire Cross Country Winter Series – Race Four – Monkhall Farm – 10th January 2016

Mud Dan

Dan Pavitt: Dry as a bone.

“No, that really couldn’t be described as fun at all. Hideous.” I was talking to Neil Taylor, a Croft Ambrey runner and familiar face at cross-country events, who had just about summed up the morning for me. Back in the day, British Rail – or was it Railtrack – were ridiculed for cancelling trains due to ‘the wrong type of snow’. I could now see their point, as it dawned on me that I was suffering from the wrong type of tiredness. The race had been a struggle from the moment we turned off the Tarmac track and onto the first of three fields forming part of a 3.1 mile course, hastily designed following a ruling from the landowner that we couldn’t run the usual route. Every step forward seemed to be hard fought, and just as I felt I was making a small amount of progress at the beginning of the second lap I slid into a deep bog, taking what seemed a lifetime to extract my mud covered frame from its clutches. When I eventually slipped and slopped my way up the final climb, I managed to go right of the funnel, almost colliding with the timers – such was my delirium. But when I crossed the line I wasn’t really blowing: all the exhaustion was routed in the constant struggle for grip, and effort to stay upright. Mervyn and the team from Wye Valley did a great job in setting up an alternative route at short notice, but I certainly hope that next year we will revert to the original, so I can feel knackered in the way I am used to, and not be beaten by all the people that apparently benefit from the use of four wheel drive legs.

As we lined up for the start the relentless ‘pistulation’ (as an uncle of mine calls it) of the previous week had, well, relented, and for a brief moment we were bathed in a peculiar light that I had seen in the past but couldn’t remember when or where. I wondered if we were about to witness the second coming or something, but felt January 10th would be an odd date for that to happen and in due course whatever it was retreated back behind the clouds leaving the sky a more familiar fifty (or so) shades of grey. It wasn’t the best turn out, if I am honest – ten men and five women – but sometimes it just works out that way. I’d received several apologies with one good reason or another, and I suspect some fence sitters may have jumped off, landing on the ‘extra hour in bed’ side. I could understand the lure of the duvet given the weather, but it was slightly disappointing, having trained with 30 other Ludlow Runners the previous Tuesday evening. I really shouldn’t be a member of our ‘A’ Team – certainly not in 56th place – which is where I landed up.

Amongst those who did make it, the name Gilbert featured once again. Eilish didn’t seem overly optimistic at the start and was fully track-suited by the time I staggered across the line so I guess she called it a day at the end of lap one. However Shannon seemed to be teasing me for almost the whole race, maintaining a gap of about 100 metres. I felt I was on the verge of reeling her in moments before I fell flat on my face in the drink – and that was the end of my challenge. It was only as I was clawing my way out of the hole that I remembered she had taken part in the Shropshire Champs the previous day! She eventually finished fifth – our first woman home – with a spirited performance. Emily Hinton was 20th followed by Emma Tipton, who had chosen this as her first cross-country outing for the club, in 36th. Clearly a ‘rain or shine’ athlete then – I like her style. Likewise Michele Parker, poster girl for Anne Thorpe’s Walk to Run initiative, was unfazed by one of the toughest cross country races I can remember.

Monkhall Dog

Howlin’ Wolf!

On Strava, the route resembles an outline of the U.K. but back to front. Either that or a dog sitting on its backside howling. I certainly felt like howling as I zigzagged like a drunk between the ditch and the saturated field on the other side of it, desperate to find some firm ground and avoid all the bonsai sinkholes. Mervyn had explained at the start that there weren’t any river crossings except for one that was ‘about a foot wide’. He was obviously applying the same principal used when calculating distance in country miles, as it was certainly 3 foot across, and roughly the same depth. I know this having lost the will to jump it second time round.

So what of the rest of the men’s team? Although a fit Tom Powell is now almost always out of my reach, I expect to keep him in sight and perhaps make a challenge, even if it’s a brief one – not so this time. Seeing Craig Collier during a race though, rather than at either end of it, was something of a novelty for me even if he was completing a loop I was just about to begin. A bit like when you see a work colleague shopping in Tuffin’s pound isle on a Saturday morning – it took me a few seconds to register who it was. Afterwards he complained of a lack of grip and speed, but I can’t say that was obvious as he came barreling down the hill at one of several points where the course doubled back on itself. I’d be happy with twenty third place in such conditions, but our Craig is a proper racer… I was able to keep the rest of the chaps at bay despite my pratfall and dwindling morale. Clive Richardson was a little too close for comfort though, and Paul Dews, Jamie Green, Sandy Ross, and Andy Tipton all dug in with admirable resolve. David Haynes returned having somehow drawn a considerable amount of blood from his hand – as he did last year. Attention seeking I call it.

Paul Parker deservedly won our ‘Most Improved Runner’ award for 2015 and I have watched this improvement take place over the last year or so. My only very slight doubt all along has been his sanity – by which I mean he seems far too sane to be a cross-country runner. He’s a cheerful fellow, outwardly neither obsessive nor driven. I privately questioned if he had the right mindset; the ability to disconnect the brain and leave it in the car at the start of each race – to tilt the head down and ignore all the pain. Having finally removed my mud stained, soaking wet kit, I was attempting to regain feeling in my fingertips using a polystyrene cup full of instant coffee as Mr Parker approached. “Well, I quite enjoyed that Dan..”. Enough said. The man is bonkers. I’m convinced he’ll go from strength to strength.

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