Over a year ago, when I was asked whether I would lead a team of Fulham Running Club ladies in the Surrey Cross Country league I was apprehensive at the thought of trying to rally my troops and get some girls out of the city and enjoying some off-road, muddy trails. I shouldn’t have worried though as in our first season competing in the league numbers grew with each race and some even progressed to competing in their first ever National level race.
I hoped I would be able to carry their enthusiasm and energy into our second season and we did just that – starting with our first race in a sunny Nonsuch Park, out to Mitcham Common for the second round, further still to Lloyd Park, Croydon for the penultimate race and last week we took our furthest trek from SW London to Happy Valley Park, Coulsden for the fourth and final race of the 2016/17 season. We were in a strong position leading up to the final meet, holding on to third place behind Woking AC and The Stragglers and just ahead of newcomers and friends Advent Runners, with three teams progressing to Division 1 at the end of the season. It was all to play for, or rather simply ours to lose.
We arrived at Farthing Downs, just up the hill from Happy Valley Park, in a snowy blizzard, the heavy white clouds hanging low across the fields and a soft sprinkling of icy snow settling on the trails. All wrapped up on top of our stripey vests, we made our way down to race HQ, popped up the club flag and with trepidation we got into our warm up routine, circling the field, looking around at the other ladies with uncertainty. These were real XC conditions, no sunshine to warm our backs but a bitter chill in the air freezing our feet and fingers and wet snow falling on our noses. The no-baselayer rule I, and others, usually abide to, went out of the window as we huddled together and waited for the start. A much smaller field of girls gathered on the start line than usual, maybe put off by the weather or distance to travel, so I was beaming with delight at the efforts of my team, fifteen strong despite the harsh conditions.
At 12 noon, for once, we were started promptly, set off on a two lap, 7.5km route. The course took us field-side with some tricky footing to contend with, dodging slippy mud and numerous holes that I’m sure many a runner’s foot would end up down. Up a slight slope and into a more sheltered wooded area, the challenge became a game of dodge-the-tree-root-and-low-hanging-branches, before we reached a short tarmac section and those wearing spikes cursed, trying to find some grip but fighting a losing battle as they hot footed it across the hard ground. Another beautiful forested section brought us back into a muddy field, downhill this time, slipping and sliding before a sharp corner, which as I observed took some out and down, led us up a short sharp climb and down again, into the arms of a crowd of supporters and back to begin our second loop.
The snow continued to fall, underfoot became more and more churned up making it difficult to stay upright and the field stretched out as we got closer and closer to the finish line. The organisers had decided to set the course out to include a lap of honour, a parade if you will, so as we came off the final descent there was a 400m stretch or so to race and chase down those still ahead. My lungs were burning from the cold and I couldn’t feel the tips of my toes or fingers, but I got stuck in and struck for home as team mate Sophie shouted from the sidelines! The top 5 runners from each team count towards the score and I came in 6th FRC lady, my girls smashing it and me! Team mate Rose pulled out a blinder finishing 1st in Division 2 and 6th overall, ahead of Sophie, Steph, Becky and Maddy who made up a winning team, first overall in Division 2! Myself, Sydnee, Emily, Kim, Ashlee, Amy, Daphne, Rachel, Judith and Louise ran strong to complete the FRC line-up and I can now say, beaming with pride, that WE HAVE BEEN PROMOTED TO DIVISION 1 NEXT SEASON! What a race, what a season, what a TEAM!
I couldn’t be more proud of the efforts from these girls, their grit and determination, giving it their all in every race and they fully deserve this amazing result! We’ve built a strong team together over these past two seasons and I cannot wait to step up next season with each and every one of them and fight our corner in Division 1. BRING IT ON! (But first, National XC….eek!)