With rain on and off all week, buildup to Saturday’s Met League race at Ally Pally (Alexandra Palace) — my club’s “home turf” — was filled with speculation about how muddy and lake-like the course might be. “Heavy rain” was forecast for Saturday; it would probably be a messy one.
It didn’t end up raining too much during the race, but the day was gray and windy. We had a massive headwind during much of the second half of the race; the wind drove the misting rain into our faces as we battled up the big hill for the second time. Luckily, it wasn’t actually too cold — about 10C (50F) — so I opted for shorts and a long-sleeved base layer under my Heathside vest.
Standing and waiting for the start, all of a sudden I got nervous. “Let’s just get this over with,” I said to J. But as soon as we were off through the mud, a huge smile came to my face as I realized the absurdity of 152 women slogging across muddy grass for 6km. Laughing must’ve relaxed me, as well as thinking we’re going to be wet and muddy anyway, so I might as well enjoy this!
J and I stuck together, looping around the pond twice — while passing people pretty consistently — before heading up the dreaded Ally Pally hill for the first time. We caught C and C at the bottom of the hill and started up: “Just pretend it’s the roller coaster,” I breathed to J. (NB: The “roller coaster” is the hilly tempo run we do every other Thursday evening, adding five minutes every month.) Small steps and big arms going downhill, I reminded myself as we reached the top and plunged downwards. I lost J at some point here and ended up running the rest of the race pretty much on my own.
We had one more loop of the pond, then up and down the hill to the finish. Stay steady here, I reminded myself on the last loop of the pond, you’ve still got to get up the big hill again. Tip-toeing through the small bogs that had formed, so as not to lose my shoes, I rounded the pond and headed into the wind and rain for the last ascent and final downhill. Another silly grin spread over my face as the rain hit me. You’ve run in worse conditions than this, Tammela! You love running in the rain. It’s true — the wind I could’ve done without, but I do love a good cleansing run in the rain.
The last run up the hill was pretty brutal — baby steps, I told myself — yet I still managed to pass a few people on the ascent. “Now stay focused,” I said out loud to myself when starting downhill. The last few minutes of the race can be the toughest, especially in cross country when your concentration begins to wane. Do not fall. Across the fields on a slight decline, the finish was in sight as I kicked it into high gear for the last push. That paid off, as I passed three women right before the finish.
Final result: I ran 28:23 for the muddy 6km/3.73mi course (7:36/mile pace). I was the 79th woman of 152 and the 13th Heathsider of 24 running.
Overall, I am really pleased with my race. Despite the pre-start nerves, once on course I felt relaxed and strong. It was thrilling to splash through water and mud — “This is real cross country,” I said to J afterwards. It makes you feel alive. As always, the rabbling from the Heathside men and other Heathside-affiliated spectators was fantastic — it definitely helped me keep going and chasing people in front of me. Thanks, everyone, and great running all!
Next up: a couple of easy weeks over the holidays, then ramping up in January for four race weekends in a row: cross country, 10 miler, cross country, half marathon. Should be a fun and busy running month.