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24-11-2017, 03:26 PM,
When I awoke on Saturday 14th October something became apparent for the first time. I realised that the first day of the cross-country season is more exciting than most other things these days. Christmas Day. My birthday. Maybe it's similar, in terms of anticipation, to going on a long foreign holiday after a prolonged period of w@rk. I just couldn't wait for the cross country season to start.

It's not that I'm very good at it. As a heavier runner I often struggle when the going gets muddy underfoot. And it 
finds you out if you're struggling for fitness. It's like riding a bicycle in cross-winds. The stronger riders always prevail. It's difficult to explain. I tentatively mentioned the "Christmas Day Fact" to a few other clubmates I thought might understand. But their reaction was a mixture of amusement stained with slight pity and embarrassment. And these were hard-core runners. I think it comes down to the fact that cross country represents a tradition that's deeply rooted in these islands. It's like fell running. Or the mile. It feels important but also alittle neglected. It's also off-road running with marginal physical risk. And it's logistically easy, taking place in urban parks and school playing fields close to roads and conurbations.

Wakefield was relatively long (around 10k), unseasonably warm and very firm underfoot, although with still enough give in the ground for long spikes. And it seemed a long way to race given what I'd done recently. But I put in a decent effort and chose a, just about, sustainable pace.

That was followed by the Northern Cross Country Relays at Graves Park in Sheffield. Another race that was good-to-firm. But this had other challenges, like Storm Brian offering up a crazy block headwind for the start and the finish of the leg. And the fact that the legs were only 2 miles long, which made it a ferocious and painfully short effort.

Then the second league race at Guiseley. Where sunshine prevailed and both me and Junior had storming runs. Setting us up nicely for the National Cross Country Relays at Mansfield. A National event were 1273 teams, in the different age groups, were competing.

The National Relays were a long day but good nonetheless. The club hired a coach so I was able to claim a much deserved nap on the way back up the M1. The leg itself was made harder by being stood around in the pen for far too long. There's a certain anxiety attached to these races that you're going to miss the previous runner. So you tend to go to the pen early and get cold. When they finally come through you bolt off like an idiot. Mainly to get warm again but also due to adrenaline. You regret this all the way around the second lap. It's painful but doesn't last forever.

Then last weekend was Spenborough. A compact course behind a running track I last visited when I was 13 years old. I could write a long post about that school race which is still firmly etched into my mind. Maybe another day.

We've not really experienced the character building extremes of this sport yet. The nowhere-to-hide exposure of a Winter's day where freezing temperatures and driving rain make just getting it done and getting home the No 1 objective. But there's plenty of time for that. Keighley, The Yorkshires near Ripon, the Northerns at Harewood. And then there's the Nationals at Parliament Hill. They call it the spiritual home of Cross Country. I've not been yet (I've only run at the Nationals once, in Sunderland, and it was a testing day) so that should be some experience.

It's such a difficult and intriguing task. Both mentally and physically. Gauging how fast you can push it. The constant feedback loop. Continually asking the same questions. Something that requires absolute focus it feels fully submersive. And if life is about becoming fully absorbed in whatever we choose to do then right now this quirky, somewhat unrelenting, sport seems to be a very captivating proposition.

I heard a good quote recently from a climber who was asked 'Who's the best climber?'. Their response was that the best climber was the one who was having the most fun. And I think this translates well to many other sports and pastimes. People rarely describe cross country as fun. But if you push past the bad reputation and get your legs dirty there's a whole world of fun (and pain) waiting for you.

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