The Great Unblocking

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That’s me on the left, my friend Caroline on the right

Early Sunday afternoon as Yorkshire puddings were digesting in full bellies across the county, Yorkshire Water suffered a Star Wars-esque Great Disturbance in the Force as the drains coughed and spluttered under the strain of mud washed from 800 pairs of legs.

Engineers with super-size plungers and industrial-strength drain rods were on standby, extra sets of temporary traffic lights were hired in ready for the roads to be dug up and the blocked pipes replaced. As it turned out the lagoons of mud, sludge and other sticky liquids picked up at the Barnbow fields didn’t quite tip the balance, but it was a close thing.

The fourth race in the now very popular Peco cross country series promised to be a mudfest. It was a perfect storm, heavy rain, soggy fields and more than 800 runners in luggy, spiky shoes, just right to stir it all up.

The men were sent off first, mainly so we could watch and snigger as they took the tight, slippery corner on one leg and landed in a pile in the mud. By the time it was our turn,  the field was mud soup and it didn’t smell too good either. The start was uphill, even so, I could swear I was moving backwards, the mud was like a conveyor belt in reverse, no traction at all. The girl next to me lost a shoe, I don’t think she ever found it, another sacrifice to the Mud God.

It was one of the toughest five miles I’ve ever run, slipping, sliding and splashing all over the place. Thank goodness the brambles and spiky bushes stopped me from falling. I had so much mud on my shoes, I finished five centimetres taller than I started.

The post-run shower was like a geological sampler kit, different layers peeled away, I saw coal, I saw grit, I saw something brown that I don’t think was inorganic. The plughole protested but finally gave way and I was clean again – until the next time.

 

Let the mudfest begin

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The judge casts a critical eye over the mud cover, Reena and Clare join in. They’re disqualified because they’re not called Caroline or Anne.

Winter’s on the way, skimpy singlets are giving way to Smartwool tops and the deep-lugged trail shoes have been de-mudded, ready to be saturated in icy boggy water and then re-mudded. Bring it on!

This weekend signalled the start of the annual Peco cross country series. Five or so short, steep runs in lovely places around Leeds. They are so popular that the start has to be staggered, men then women on this occasion. Personally I’m always staggering, so that’s a bonus. Plus, it’s a real Yorkshire bargain, just £3 to register then a couple of quid per race, followed by free food!

As usual, I’ll be working my way to the back, what with lack of training and recent illness, but I can always train more – and I can shake off viruses and migraines, so improvement is on the way, soonish… In the meantime, any thoughts of any awards are definitely out of the window. Or are they?

There is one prize within my grasp, and I am well-qualified to win it. What with all the rain, puddles and soft ground and slippery-slidey slopes, and my skills in finding mud when no-one else can, I’m betting on me to win the Mudder of the Year. We’re not talking Tough Mudder here, those fun, but expensive assault courses with faux mud, barbed wire and shouty sergeant major types. No, this is the genuine sticky smelly stuff found at any Yorkshire cross country worth its salt.

Competition for this coveted title is fierce, but limited. Very limited in fact as there are just two of us, so I’m guaranteed at least second place. I’m not sure who started it, but it the game is on between Caroline and me.

The aim is simple, get as muddy as you can during a race. There are no rules about how the mud gets there, though a panel of independent judges takes a dim view of mud which looks like it has been deliberately applied. Last year, my Adam Ant look disqualified me and Caroline’s smearing of grease from her bicycle chain on her leg gave her penalty points. Ultimately she won by taking a tumble at the Temple Newsam Ten and breaking a couple of ribs. There were no extra points for broken bones, personally I thought she should have had them deducted for showing off, but her collection of twigs, leaves and a Mars Bar wrapper stuck to a layer of mud gave her the edge and she won.

But this is a new mud season and the game is on. Today’s race had the wrong kind of mud, non-stick mud, we were hardly dirty, it was embarrassing. After a quick inspection, the judges declared a draw. Let’s hope it rains a lot more before the next one!

 

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Mud, blood and vermilion hair dye

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The post cross-country shower is always entertaining, watching what whirls around the plughole on its journey back to nature. If there’s no mud, I feel robbed. Grass and small stones are a requirement, a small tree, a bonus. But today, as I washed away the detritus collected on the Yorkshire Veterans’ Grand Prix race in Pudsey, there were a couple of extras.

At the shockingly tender age of 35, a female runner is considered a veteran, so can take part in this fun series of races, none of those young whipper-snappers disappearing into the distance fuelled by teenage hormones. Just the oldies, some of us a lot older than others, some of us considering ourselves super veterans, or veterans plus. And just to rub it in, we have to wear our age on our back. Fortunately there are usually so few people behind me that my age is something of a secret.

The heavens opened as we registered for the run, everyone trying to stay as dry as they could before the inevitable drenching and mudfest. There’s something almost unseemly about getting wet before you start.

These races always begin with a turn around the field, sometimes two, just to get a coating of mud, maybe a bit of poo, grass and pick up the odd Mars Bar wrapper on luggy soles. It also allows the faster runners to sprint away, always a sight to behold. I love seeing great runners, they inspire me, I want to be one.

Cross country is just that, no pesky roads or cars splashing through puddles, we can make our own splashes. The paths are narrow and steep, nature is always nearby, nettles, and brambles. Yes, brambles, they are a definite trip hazard, so I’m always on the look-out. But they can jump out and catch you by surprise, which is exactly what happened as I slid down a mud slope, the thorns scratching my leg, drawing blood instantly. It didn’t hurt (it bloomin’ well does now!) but boy did I look gnarly, a proper cross country runner!

The rain failed to wash it off, though it did a fair job of soaking my hair and sending the semi-permanent vermilion dye which covers the grey, southwards, giving me an all-over red glow.

I couldn’t wait to clean up, and watched as the mud was joined by blood and hair dye, it was like the shower scene from Psycho, except without the scary music – and the knife of course. Hopefully the next race won’t be quite so wet and scratchy, but who knows what will head down the plughole!

And there let me wallow…..

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Our muddy shoes

One of the disadvantages of always being near the back of the cross country pack, other than never winning anything, is that when it’s rainy, which is pretty much all the time, the hundreds of pairs of feet that go before me mash up the ground and create a rivers, lakes and oceans of mud. Just as well I love it, then.

The whole dirt fixation must have come from those long school holidays spent at my grandparents where I was given free run of the garden, it kept me ‘out from under the feet’, I was told – and didn’t mind as  it got me into the Great Outdoors.  The black soil glistened, probably thanks to the passing slugs, and the texture was gritty and strangely inviting. Why not scoop up a handful and taste it? Why not indeed? This was before the days of nasty bacteria with unpronounceable names, hand-washing gels and toilets with automatic flushing. A bit o’muck never did anyone any harm – hell we didn’t even have a bath, so it was a good rub down with a flannel standing in the kitchen sink.

So what was wrong with a good handful of Yorkshire soil with a bit of slug slime? My eight-year-old palate was a few years away from maturity, but even it could recognise the high notes of saltiness and texture of grit. I honestly can’t remember whether I chewed and swallowed or spat it out, I’d like to think it was returned pretty quickly to the flower bed in a stream of saliva, but I suspect it followed by egg and chips down into my belly where it hung around for quite a while.

I didn’t try it again for a few decades, though I enjoyed making mud pies and was fascinated by all the different colours, textures and smells. It had a quality all of its own and I became fond of mud, though as a teenager I wouldn’t go anywhere near it unless it was a face pack made with fullers earth, a greeny-coloured clay said to smooth away impurities. So entering into the world of cross country running was like a return to my roots, or at least the roots of anything that grew along the path.

Sunday’s Yorkshire Veterans Athletics Association’s five mile traipse through mud in all its forms from near liquid through sucky to hard and sticky saw me slipping, sliding, doing comedy windmill imitations and making farty noises with my shoes. It was mud, mud, glorious mud, I loved it.  When’s the next one?

The definition of mud

Suddenly, the mud ran out

Mud: A mixture of soil and and water and fine-grained sediment.  Run: To move swiftly on foot so that both feet leave the ground during each stride. Peco: A Sunday morning activity for up to 400 people, combining mud and run, along with slipslide and losing a shoe.

Just over five miles later as I knocked the clods of earth from the ridges in my running shoes, the creases in my tights, the small space between my watch and my wrist and, inexplicably, my earhole, I reflected on the qualities of mud.

I was one of the 400-or-so who had lined up on the windswept common above Wakefield covering what was once an active coal mine for the first of a series of cross country races. They are sponsored by a company that embroiders and prints clothing, but whose owners would rather be doing gnarly stuff, if their website is anything to go by.

I have to confess, I have a bit of a reputation for enjoying muddy conditions to run in, I even organise an informal running session each week, the Mud Club and consider it time well spent if I have to hose my shoes down afterwards. What’s not to like about mud? It makes that lovely sucky noise as your feet break the surface. It moves around underfoot, pushing, pulling or sometimes catapulting an unsuspecting runner.  It’s thick or thin, smooth or lumpy, like custard, but of course you can’t run in custard.

There’s another four races in the series which, judging by the torrential rain that just goes on and on, will be a mudrunner’s delight. Ah well, every cloud, eh?

Mud, mud, glorious mud…..

Pre-mud with the Eccleshill Road Runners

“So then,” the Monday morning conversation usually starts. “What did YOU do this weekend?”. “W-e-l-l,” I said, “it was about mud.” Yes, mud. Mud on my shoes, mud in my shoes, mud under my nails, all my nails including the ingrowing ones. Mud in my hair, mud on my teeth and finally a certain amount of mud in my stomach. Yes, this weekend I ran a cross country.

Now I’m a card-carrying member of the England Athletics (England Athletics – Growing The Next Generation of Athletics Champions) and a member of a proper running club, I can enter all sorts of races. I use the word ‘race’ in its loosest term, in that I don’t actually race, I just tag along. Anyway this weekend I ran a cross country and did I mention it was muddy?

Who would have thought the five miles between Horsforth and Calverley could hold so much mud? Amazingly, I didn’t fall, though did some spectacular slides and splashes. And do you know what, it was great fun!  There’s another seven cross country events and any amount of mud to come… oh joy! Maybe I should get brown shoes… and brown kit…. brown is the new black….