Last night I noticed a niggle. In order to get into some sort of shape you have to push yourself. Too hard and the cracks appear. Was this a crack? During 3hrs and 12 hilly miles yesterday (Saturday) I probably landed a bit hard and compressed something at the front of my right ankle and I was limping around the flat last night wondering if I'd make the start line at Paxton XC today. It's a venue and course that I really like so I was hoping that it wasn't anything to spoil the fun. When I went out to the corner shop later on, I tried running a short distance and the niggle was quiet as a mouse. Excellent, it's only a walking and sitting injury. (I'll make sure I do as little of that as possible in the race.)
Big thank you to Steve who drove Willie, Fiona and myself to this one. (Craig made his own way there.) I have been here a few times and I think I enjoy it so much because it is scenic and none of the hills goes on for too long (like Peebles!) so by the time I am running out of air and legs they level off and I can enjoy the view again while catching my breath. We arrived in plenty time, which is just as well as there was no more parking within the grounds and we had to leave the car in the street opposite.
With no numbers to collect we changed and did a warm up round the riverside part of the course. The niggle was absent although I felt it earlier while walking about the flat this morning. VERY good news really, and there was negligible wind and the frost had firmed up the worst of the mud. It was all looking very propitious.
Having warmed up to a point where I could take off hat and strip down to vest without chattering teeth, I lined up and got a great start. It's not the first time I have done the first couple of hundred slightly downhill yards in the top ten, the difference today being, as we chugged round the field, I wasn't overtaken by anyone. I felt good and was looking forward to the downhill section to the river. Just one obstacle I was not keen on: a wire fence that seemed higher than previous years and just a bit too high to hurdle. I knew it was coming and braced myself. The caffeine drink put sufficient spring in my legs and with one hand on the wobbly fence post to the right I flew over without any messing about.
I love the next bit, the flat beside the river and between avenues of trees. I had taken photos of this during the warm up and it is very picturesque. I was still feeling good here and felt I should try and keep the pace going for the climb since Stewart W would be close behind and is quite good at uphills! I was close to Dave W and Fergus J. I am used to seeing Fergus in front as he was there at the Promathon, and most Thursdays at Wintervals. After the hill levels off there are some lovely trails between the trees, and the course comes out onto the front drive of Paxton.
Steve stands in front of a cosmic mirror.
After the bridge we turned right and began the first field again, something of a surprise as I thought we went left into the cattle field. Then, instead of going down to the river, we went right and down the other side and through a stream (one wet foot,) up the other bank and along some tarmac to the bridge again before doing left into the cattle field. The hoof prints were nearly frozen solid and made for easier running than the mudbath they can be. This had been the decider for Willie J when he was choosing between thinov-8s and more cushioned road shoes, as the former would incite injury more readily. He ran in his road shoes.
We skirted the perimeter of the field and I had to admit to a wee glance back to see if Stewart was making up any ground. The distance didn't seem to be shortening and for the first time I felt there might be a chance for first 50. I tried to keep up with Dave and Fergus, not absolutely certain if this was the final hill and bit round to the finish or if we had any further sections to run. As we pulled into the final uphill funnel I realised I had crossed the line in 6th place and first m50, ahead of Stewart for the first time ever. He came right over and shook my hand and was full of warm chat.
The hardcore way to arrive at, and leave, the cross country.