Who else but Keith Rooney would be reporting from the first official X-C of the season. Mud claws an’ all.
I felt a reassuringly satisfying squelch as the mud claw’s studs bite deep, a feeling of satisfaction enhanced further by the helpless squeal ahead as a rival skewed sideways and went down.
“Something wrong with the bloody spikes today,” I heard in passing. Well, there was nothing wrong with my mud claw – not this time. I’d banked upon a back-up plan, you see, and shortly before the off, I had wrapped them up in generous amounts of masking tape. Faintly ridiculous – maybe, but I had no intention of reliving that excruciating debacle at Bedewell Park, when I was forced to grovel face down in the filth looking for an invisible shoe with runners spilling over the back of me. Oops! A flurry to my left, another dull thud and fleetingly a little pair of legs thrashing helplessly. Yep, I’m a confirmed mud claw convert.
The day began auspiciously enough. Our arrival was greeted by a riot of autumnal colour; the tents girdled in a blaze of yellows, golds, and crimson reds. The tents themselves like pavilions in some chivalric, medieval gathering on some latter day Field of Cloth of Gold*. Now, I love the build up to big races, but nothing surpasses cross country: that fantastic fusion of time-honoured tradition and adrenaline-fuelled athletic prowess facing down nature’s raw authority. On this day, however, nature was kindly and despite the cloud-scudded sky, it was for an autumn day, balmy and the spirits were high, as the TBH combatants gathered around the tent, drooling over the post-match confectionery comforts and swapping anecdotes from previous campaigns – a necessary cathartic act, I thought, as I noted how fired up the xc virgins had become.
Not that I am an xc expert myself, you understand. This was only my third outing: my first being at Farringdon back in 2011, then a mere newbie at the club, an unreconstructed, 18 stone, pot-bellied pig.; and my second at Bedewell Park, an event marred by that…..eh shoe incident.
But the portents were good. We had fielded a formidable cohort, suffused throughout with an iron determination, from one end of the running spectrum to the other. “It’s carnage!”. I’d pulled up along side a growling Nick Pearson. He had hardly been enamoured of the start either. There were too many competitors, really, way too many for such a serpentine and sinuous track. That much had been obvious, when despite the incessant cajoling and coercing, the stewards had been at a loss as how to squeeze their herd into the starters pen.
And as for the finish….. Well, the least said the better. Sufficeth to say, it was my first experience of queuing up IN FRONT of the finish line, a most disagreeable one too. A sentiment clearly shared by marshalls and runners alike to judge from the chorus of disgruntled noise emanating from the disconsolate finishers and the frayed tempers of the red-faced officials, as they barked out commands and tried to keep order.
That aside, a marvellous day out. TBH riding high, top of the pile and our very own special brand of cameraderie never far away, whether it be the rascally chants of “Rooooooneey! Rooooooneey!” from a mischevious Keith Smith – just caught a glimpse of his tousled, whippet head as he past in a blur, or the more mature sounds of motivation from Captain Hilton, as he motored past me in that final stretch, and James Robson, of course. Turned into a bit of a ding dong between he and I, that final lap. We pushed each other hard and finished together.
Now, this year’s been good to me: a hat-full of PBs and member of the month to boot. But that aspiration to contribute something to the club, that keen desire to do TBH a solid service, seemed to have alluded me – I simply wasn’t quite good enough. Well that delightful autumn day by Shibden Pond had finally satiated my long hankering: it turns out, I was the last TBH runner to effect another top division team; I’d knocked Sunderland Strollers down by a point, I’d been officially “counted”.
Amazing to think, when I started with TBH, I was running 5k in 27 mins. I’m now 5 stone lighter and the club’s turned my life around. So, three cheers for TBH….. And thank God for mud claw.
*Field of Cloth of Gold was a tournament jointly hosted by a young and viral Henry the Eigth and Francis king of France, in which the crown heads of Europe were invited to pitch their athletic prowess against one another in jousting, running, wrestling etc.