The story so far. After getting up at stupid o’clock in the morning and boarding the red eye train to King’s Cross, myself and fellow TBH cohorts arrived in London to have breakfast at a greasy spoon café and book into our accommodation for the next 24 hours. With bags un-packed, it was then off to the races.
Walking through the entrance to Parliament Hill (an area of Hampstead Heath), two things immediately struck me. Firstly, the number of people – particularly kids – caked in mud. For the majority, the mud rose to knee-height, but every now and then someone would walk past absolutely covered in the stuff, head to toe. Hmm!! Exactly how bad were the conditions?
The second thing I noticed was the lengthy queue leading to the toilets. Either a lot of people were desperate for a pee or a well-known 80’s pop star was signing autographs inside one of the cubicles.
On route to meeting with the rest of TBH, I changed from my trainers into my running spikes. Not necessarily to keep the trainers clean but to get as much grip as possible. The place was a mud-bath. Just walking around the park proved to be challenging, and that was before I’d ventured anywhere near the running course. As the senior ladies race got underway, myself, Dave Moir and Si Kristiansen decided to follow them as part of our warm-up and to check out the course.
First corner we reached, mud-bath. Second corner we reached, quagmire. Third corner, a boggy swamp. And the sections between the corners weren’t much better. And to compound matters even further I was shat upon by a passing gull – landing a direct hit on my shoulder.
That was it for me and I headed back to the club tent.
With the men primed and ready to go, it was time for the important team photograph.
A little early Brendan Foster had stopped by to wish us all the best, and as luck would have it he was passing by whilst we were lining up for our photograph. With a few shouts of ‘Come on Brendan’, he was over in a flash to take centre stage in our photograph.
I didn’t know it at the time but there were over 2,000 runners in the Senior Men’s event, and as they swarmed up the hill towards the first corner, I took it easy at the back of the field, taking in the glorious sight and sound of hundreds of runners ploughing through the mud. And just as I was gathering momentum up the hill, the race came to an abrupt halt. A narrow first corner caused a bottleneck of runners, meaning those further down the field had no other option but to walk until the congestion cleared. At least I wouldn’t have the excuse of going off too fast at the beginning of the race!!
On completion of lap one (of two), my initial targets had been achieved, namely staying up-right and not stopping at any point during the race (unforeseen bottlenecks accepted). But as I was beginning lap two a strange sensation came over me, and I suddenly thought about the utterly ridiculous situation I found myself in. Ankle deep in clarts, mud splattered here, there and everywhere, and I still had a further 3 miles to run.
I don’t know whether it was some sort of defence mechanism or a sign of madness but I actually laughed and said to myself ‘bugger this, let’s go for it’. From then onwards I ran with wild abandonment, because even if I fell head first into the deepest mud-pool, it’s unlikely I would have gotten any dirtier than I was already.
Let’s be honest, mud is mud. It’s gooey brown stuff, makes running a pain in the ass and saps energy like a wag saps their partners bank account. But what makes Parliament Hill stand out is the amount of mud. By my reckoning, at least 70% of the course must have consisted of muddy sections, with the remaining…er!.. 30% made up of trail & grassy paths. The twisty, double-back route and incessant undulating terrain just adds to its aura.
About twenty minutes later, with the finishing line just under half a mile away, I pulled alongside David Appleby. ‘Go on Dave’, I shouted, which was answered with the reply, ‘Go on DD, Moir’s just ahead’. Bugger, there goes my easy run-in to the finish. Looking up the field of runners I spotted not one but two familiar black and white vests. One worn by Dave [Moir] and the other by Alan Hodgson.
Passing Dave, I made the decision not to say anything. Not out of malice but because he was obviously hampered by injury. Dave is one of the few people I know who give’s 100% effort in every race, even when injured, so he wouldn’t want some plank urging him to push on.
Entering the final section of the race, the course dropped downhill for a few hundred meters. And despite the claggy conditions, I managed to build up some speed and draw alongside Alan.
As the course levelled out and swung to the left, I looked up in anticipation of the finishing line. It wasn’t there!!
Well, it was, but it was a further 100 meters or so in the distance. Having worked so hard to pass Dave and Alan, the last thing I wanted was for that effort to go to waste, so there was no option but to push until the end. Agony doesn’t cut it.
I felt like death crossing the line, coughing and retching, but seconds later, after a few handshakes and back slaps, I’m ready to do it all again. Guess I’d have to wait until the next harrier league fixture.
Sadly, not everything was rosy over the weekend, especially for Newcastle fans. If anyone would like to see how Micky Baker felt following Newcastle’s defeat to Manchester City, just watch this Ripping Yarns clip. Sorry Micky!