Sunday 13th October 2013 dawned cold and wet. Perfect weather for the first Cross Country race of the year, I thought, as I sprang out of bed early on Sunday morning. Okay, I didn’t actually spring, call it artistic license but it sounds better than ‘crawled’.
I first ran the Marshfield Mudlark in 2010, with an ever willing friend, when it was muddy-to-the-knees weather. We slipped and splashed and chatted our way around. I was introduced to ‘The Hill’ (it rises 100m in a kilometre) and we braved a field full of horses together.
Undaunted, I ran it again in 2011, on my own this time. To prove how capricious the British weather can be, it was sunny and hot. I still managed to find some mud (that would be the small stream the route crosses), but I was more interested in the excellent Marshfield Farm Ice Cream at the finish line.
I didn’t run this race in 2012 (can’t remember why, but I gather it was a mudbath), so decided I’d run it again this year.
We had been warned that if the weather was bad we might not be able to park on the cricket field, so I arrived early so I could park close by on the road if need be. I was fairly surprised as I was ushered onto the field to park – and was hoping they had a tractor on standby to pull us all out if the rain continued. Braving the weather I headed over to the cricket pavilion (“race HQ”) to see what was happening. The place was full of parents eating bacon butties and kids wearing ‘Mini Mudlark’ numbers who were scoffing cakes. I popped into the Ladies as there was no queue, removed my warm jogging bottoms and then headed back to the car. My legs felt cold and I was determined to keep my fleece jacket on for a long as possible.
Eventually I removed my jacket and went for a short warm up jog around the field. In a strange sadistic way I was pleased to see every other racer looked as cold as I felt. We were called for the pre-race briefing at 10:15 which was a light hearted affair, until the race director mentioned that most farmers had been extremely helpful about moving livestock out of fields that our route ran through. Pausing for a ripple of nervous laughter he then mentioned a field of ‘male cows’ that we should be careful of. I could see some people glancing down at red tops and swallowing hard. Before we could worry too much we were sent onto the road to line up for the start. Confusingly you have to go over the line, turn around and then line up. This is fine, but does mean there is a fair bit of shuffling, as faster runners hog the start line as slower runners shuffle past them heading towards the back. I was still squeezing through when the race started. As we were so squashed together it took a few moments before I could move. Then I was running forward, desperately rubbing my hands together and wishing I had worn gloves.
We ran past the cricket club and turned sharply off to the left. Down a gentle hill and then we took a right turn onto a footpath. This path slopes gently down under some trees, with misty views of the valley to the left. As the path takes a sharp left turn I could see runners picking their way along the valley, splashes of colour against the mist. I had another one of those emotional moments when I can’t quite believe what I’m doing, but had a good sniff and just carried on.
Running along the side of the valley along a slippy grass path was tough on my ankles. Suddenly I felt my legs slip from underneath me, and I threw my arm out to break my fall. My legs were spinning like a cartoon character running over a cliff and amazingly I regained my balance and didn’t hit the mud.
Panting from the adrenaline now surging through my veins, the course continued, misty, hilly, muddy and slippy. We slithered down slopes, clambered over stiles, and then staggered back up again. For the first time running this race I had to queue at some of the stiles. I was hoping this was because I was keeping up with runners this time, but frustrated that just as I was catching up with the lady in front of me I’d have to wait whilst she climbed over and then shed pull away from me again. I managed to sneak past her at the first water stop in a sneaky ‘just take one gulp’ manoeuvre.
As I ran through the field that had housed a bull last time, I peered about to make sure the field was as empty as it looked. It was. Maybe I’d managed to sneak past the bulls without even noticing them!
As we came out of the field we turned sharply left and I recognised that we were at the bottom of The Hill. I tried to run up it, but it’s just too steep and I knew there were plenty more hills still to come. I could see a girl in front of me who did manage to run the whole way. By the top I had nearly caught up with her (she was doing my classic slow-running technique) but kudos to her anyway. And even more kudos to her friend who had sped off ahead of her, made it to the top of the hill, and then turned and ran partway back down to run up again with her.
A second quick water station and then I knew we were headed back towards the village. Another lovely stretch of footpath through the trees and then a long hill up through some fields. I remembered having to walk up this field when I ran with my friend, and we were scared of the horses. This year though, I could see animals in the field but they weren’t horses. Oh no, this was the field of bulls. Even worse, they were all standing right on the footpath. I tried to catch up with the couple in front of me, thinking safety in numbers, but they were too far ahead. I watched as they picked their way between the bulls and started to follow them. My heart rate had already picked up, so I was amazed it could beat even faster when one of the bulls started trying to mount another bull just in front of me. I managed to skirt around the frisky bulls, and was amazed how fast I managed to run up that hill. Running of the Bulls, just like Pamplona but here in Wiltshire
I caught up with the couple in front of me just as we reached the final stile, and as we climbed onto the road I overtook them. It’s a great feeling to pass people you’ve been chasing, and one I never thought I’d feel.
The last half mile is along the lanes back to the cricket club, and I even managed a sprint finish. Crossing the line in the rain, I grabbed a cake and a cup of water and chatted to a couple of other finishers. In the pouring rain. Runners are strange!
I checked my time when I got home, and saw I’d completed the course in 1:17:36, about 3 minutes faster than last time. My ‘moving time’, as record by my Garmin, was 1:14:24. That was a lot of shuffling time at the start plus queuing at stiles!