Keith Rooney waxes lyrical from the final XC of the year… although he nearly missed it
Hm, smelt all right, looked all right. Caffeine eh?? I was looking for some tell-tale sign, a mischievous twitch of the lips, a suspicious flicker of the eyebrow – but all I got was the same, reassuring, expansive smile, as Louis held out to me a sample of his very own, potent, home-made running elixir.
Nah! Too much to believe he and Alasdair could’ve concocted it as some devilish ruse to spirit me out the way. I mean, I know they’re as thick as thieves, but……
“Rooney! You’d better get your arse out the tent and to the start line, or you’ll miss it!” Sparrow’s impromptu entry was sufficient to pull me out of my sceptical musings and back to reality. And a glance outside was indeed sufficient to confirm, it was no wind up: a solid rectangular mass of runners was already in position, ready for the off.
“Bloody hell! This won’t do! This won’t do at all!” I bawled at myself as I scampered to the start, just managing to tag onto the end, as the formation lurched into life. It was hardly a favourable spot! Stuck on the rear end of a solid buttress of moving parts, a fact which soon became apparent, as I tried to negotiate a path through the heaving throng.
What was also apparent, however that this was going to be very different affair from Wrekenton 1. The ground had in the meantime dried out into a concrete mass of twisting and jagged furrows and troughs, forming a perfectly preserved record of the previous encounter. Still, it was fast and the runners skimmed over the ground, reveling in the unimpeded dash: mud claws, spikes, for the most part, tossed aside in favour of speedier flats.
I liked the view from that scarred, old knoll, crowned with the its industrial relics from yesteryear: the landscape of post-industrial clutter stretching away to a cerulean horizon with its hint of the sea. Thrice did the runners negotiate that hill and each time found it more unforgiving than the last. In fact, Wrekenton, as far as XC goes, had, surprisingly, much to offer: none of this running around a muddy football pitch. Masquerading as a challenge with its dearth of demand and pointless zig-zagging deviations to make up mileage – so hated by the XC purists.
Wrekenton had a bit of everything: a couple of breakneck plunges accompanied by white knuckles, a wing and a prayer and absolute trust in ones feet to find the right path through the fissured and broken ground, or over the steps so artfully incorporated into the route to tax ones navigational skills during the downhill dash; then that gravelly climb, a tad more generous in gradient than the aforementioned, but gruelling none-the-less, and some lovely, long, open stretches, perfect for extending the stride, establishing the rhythm and rescuing the Garmin.
Everything in triplicate, I reflected, as I watched the First Aid official punctiliously, almost lovingly filling out the accident report forms: “one for you, one for us, and one for the race organisers,” she explained, as she handed me a copy, beaming from behind the horn-rimmed spectacles, whilst being simultaneously informed a runner had dislocated a hip, having fallen from a horse?!? Never a dull moment in the NEHL, I mused.
Year on year, it never ceases to amaze, surprises and surrealistic to the last. I think, I’d acquired my own wound at that point, when dropping down from the hill, I and two others converging on the same point, came together with a hell of a clatter. The pain had barely registered – thank God for adrenalin – but, one of the chaps had evidently caught me on the knee with his spikes. Still, as unpeeled my blood-soaked sock at the end of the day, the thought did cross my mind: no xc series could possibly be complete without, at least a bit of the red stuff. Can’t wait for October!