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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Romantic Valentine gift for £3

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Thanks to Ken Fox for the photo

I was more than a little embarrassed as I unwrapped the beautiful lapis lazuli bracelet Noel had secretly bought me as a Valentine gift. Even the cats had sent me a card. My Sainsbury’s card to him seemed inadequate by comparison, I had to think quickly if I was to be a credible romantic wife.

“It’s a lovely day,” I said, eyeing the frost sparkling on the running shoes I’d left outside to de-mud the previous week and promptly forgotten about. “How about I take you out for some fresh air?” Noel’s always up for the great outdoors. “How about we go for a run?” Noel’s always up for a run. “How about we run a five-mile cross country and I take you for a meal afterwards?” He was up for that, especially the meal bit.

It wasn’t any old cross country either, little did he suspect that our romantic run would be with 400 others on the fifth and final Peco race. It was an absolute bonus that it just happened to fall on Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t believe my luck! With an entry fee of just £3 and free food to follow, it’s a Yorkshirewoman’s dream, I’d have change out of a fiver to buy a couple of pints of lime and soda and a packet of pork scratchings at the bar.

Noel’s not daft, he knew we were heading for a club run when I insisted we wore our matching Eccleshill Road Runners kit, but he’s a Yorkshireman too – and at £3 each, it was a cheap date. He approved.

The run around Roundhay Park was glorious, though rather tough, I don’t think I can describe it as romantic, though Noel did blow me a kiss as I crossed the finishing line. There was a disappointing lack of mud, but he made up for it by playing football and falling over a lot. As we strolled back to the club house for our Valentine meal of jacket potato and beans, followed by lemon drizzle cake, a gust of wind blew a piece of paper up from the field, which smacked me in the face. It was a fiver, I was quids in. A perfect Valentine’s Day.

Splishety splashety sploshety

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You’d think the 30-minute shower with the heat turned to 11 and the spray set at ‘feels like razor-sharp needles’ would remove even the stubbornest of mud. That’s what I thought as I watched dirt, grit, clumps of grass and small invertebrates disappear down the plughole, shortly before it was blocked by a small boulder which had lodged itself between my toes.

But no, the fluffy white towel was transformed into a muddy mess, I’d missed a bit, in fact I’d missed a lot. It’s going to be trouser time this week, I can’t be seen in meetings with muddy legs.

All around Yorkshire, plugholes have been blocked and cleared out and towels dirtied as runners from the first Peco cross country of the year de-mudded. We’d already been warned that after all the recent rain, the course near the former Vickers tank factory in Leeds would be a mudfest.

Yet there we were on Sunday morning, 700 of us, squeaky clean, sparkly and ready to run. Just to make it a bit more interesting, a few tanks had been borrowed from Vickers to churn up any unchurned parts of the course. And what with a couple of waterjumps, mud would very much be the order of the day.

Always being nearer the back than the front, I was running where 699 had trod before. Mud was everywhere, all I could hear was splishety splashety spolshety and the occasional curse as someone slipped, never to be seen again, though it did mean I moved up a place. No-one said cross country was a safe sport.

I collected a lot of mud and other debris, but amazingly didn’t fall. Well, there’s always next time, which I am very much looking forward to. Though I may have to buy new towels.

An unfortunate turn

Bringing up the rear (but not last!) at the Peco, West Park. Thanks to Stuart Lowe (Astronomy Blog) for the photo.
Bringing up the rear (but not last!) at the Peco, West Park. Thanks to Stuart Lowe (Astronomy Blog) for the photo.

Race starts are always heart-pumpingly exciting. We’re all penned in, ready to be released like a coiled spring, the pungent smell of Deep Heat, mingled with last night’s vindaloo and a whiff of my Chloe Eau de Parfum strong in the air, well one does have standards.

When it’s the inter-club cross country races, like Sunday’s Peco, I make a point of staying well back, there are serious runners in the pack who will have finished, washed and changed and eaten their pie and peas by the time I cross the line. I know them all, well I know what they look like from behind, I’ve never seen their fronts. As far as I’m concerned, they could have three noses to help them get deeper breaths, or an extra couple of arms to drive back as they up the pace, because all they ever do is disappear into the distance. But that’s OK, I’m not competing against them, I’m just joining in and getting a few points for the club. I also like to think I bring a little je ne sais quoi with my artistic interpretation and style as I splash through mud, poo and water though not usually in that order.

So as we stood there waiting to start, I realised I was facing the wrong way, not unusual, it’s always a clamour, and I’m never quite sure which direction we set off anyway, so I turned. Strange, I thought, I can’t usually hear the announcements and warnings of high peril they make, it’s usually drowned out by the murmurs and farting of the runners in front. But there were no runners in front, because I was there, at the front, with the lithe, spindly, vest-clad bodies of the proper runners. Shit, I thought, shit I’m in the company of greatness, an imposter, I’m going to be in trouble with the Running Police who’ll haul me out as and charge me with Not Running Fast Enough. Shit, shit, S-H-I-T! There was nowhere to go, the horn was about to blow and we’d be off. There was nothing for it but to set my face to ‘serious’ and do that half-bending foot-forward stance that Mo Farrah does. For a split second, I was Mo, then we were off and I had to watch out I wasn’t mown down.

Of course they all streamed past me, but I got to see their faces before they disappeared into the distance, everyone had just the one nose and two arms. They charged ahead, churning up the mud and making it into the kind of brown, lumpy soup served at motorway service stations in the 60s, for those of us at the back of the pack. I personally believe we tail-enders should get extra points for running through everyone else’s left-over mud, but I may be in a minority on that.

Still, I felt a pang of competitiveness as I stood with the best runners at the start, I may just have to do some more of that training stuff.

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?

Mean overtaking move on the final hill. Yessssss

Spurred on by Ralph 'The Juggler' Kidner, I make the overtaking move of the day. Well, my day anyway

“Well, that was a bargain,” I said as I wiped the mud from my arms, legs and tip of my nose. “Just £2 to enter and run a five-mile cross country race – does it get any better than that?”

Noel looked me up and down, pulled a twig out of my hair, hay from my sock and pointed out I had poo on my shoe. “Some may not see it that way, in fact some may want to be paid much more than £2 to do what you’ve just done,” he said.

“Really?” I said as I looked around at the flags and colours flown by the assembled running clubs from West Yorkshire and the hundreds of runners in their club kit. “You surprise me”.

I was still buzzing from my dramatic overtaking move on the final steep hill, captured on camera for all to see. Not only was I not last (my objective for the event), but I stormed up the slippery slope and headed for the finish to the cheers of team mates. Oooo it felt good!

This was my first time in my Eccleshill Road Runners vest. I’d already had verbal and written assurances from my faster, fitter team mates that it didn’t matter if I came last, the team wouldn’t be kicked out of the cross country league.

The race was the first in the Peco cross country series, and of course my first ever. It was a good sign when we turned up at Fitzwilliam Country Park that the Coffee Van Man was there. I was so happy to see him, I hugged him, he hugged me back. He hugged Noel. It was a good time to hug. So espressoed up, I met up with Team Eccleshill, and very fetching we looked too in our blue and whites.

The £2 entry fee was a bargain, races such as the Leeds 10k cost more than £20 and there’s no mud there at all! Where’s the fun in that? As team runners, though, everyone is very good and rather keen, there were no fairies, giant champagne bottles or pantomime horses. Just runners in vests, yet no-one was saying ‘they’ll catch their death” even though it was very draughty around the houses. Indeed, it took my breath away.

So that’s one down, a great overtaking move, and not last. What with a coffee to start and finish and great camaraderie isn’t that a bargain for £2?