We woke to frost this morning, which meant that my usual the-weather-has-changed-what-on-earth-shall-I-wear? pre-race dilemma ensued. I knew it would be more a case of tortoise than hare today (I haven't run for three weeks- virus), so I plumped for my new Mr Men & Little Miss capris (on the basis that they would cheer everyone up), a thermal top, hat and gloves. M eyed my get-up speculatively. You'll ditch the hat and gloves after a few minutes, he decided. I won't I said back, and I was right, because when we got to Avebury (home to an ancient stone circle that curls round the village which was built inside it and coincidentally my favourite place on Earth) it was bitter cold: windy, icy and generally shivery-making, if gloriously sunny.
Race HQ was in the sports and social club, a two minute walk from the National Trust car park. Only it didn't feel like two minutes; it felt like a trek through the North Pole. We scurried over the frozen grass of the cricket pitch and dived for the door. It felt like all 175 runners were inside. Everyone was crammed in, unwilling to wait outside where the arctic blast was flaying skin from the bone.
The warmth in the hall lulled us into a false sense of security as we all queued patiently for the loo before stripping off into race gear. You could tell just by looking who was planning on running fast (shorts, vest tops) and who wasn't (full length lycra, coat, hats, gloves etc).
It was a ten minute wander down through the village to the start and mercifully by then it had started to warm up a bit so when we arrived it was all golden and glowing.
Beautiful houses lined the route...
...accounting for the various no peeing here, men! signs that had been nailed to prominent gate posts...
There were autumn colours on the ground...
And soon, with very little fanfare, the race director wished us all a happy, muddy run, and we were off.
I soon saw what he meant.
Luckily, I am not afraid of mud.
Once we'd got through that, the path opened out onto tracks which made running easier, only by then our trainers were so weighed down with mud it felt like each foot weighed an extra stone. Everyone had a good sense of humour about it though and we were all laughing. No rural running virgins amongst this lot.
However, the respite was short-lived and we were soon back to mud, and tracks that were too narrow to fit both feet.
The pay-off for all this mud was worth it though.....
After the long climb up Windmill Hill we came out on the glorious rolling chalk Downlands of Wiltshire. The sun was shining and the visibility stretched for mile upon mile upon mile...
This landscape fairly vibrates with the past. You can't go more than a few feet without tripping over a burial mound. Many of them haven't been excavated. Just think, inside the mound of earth in the picture below are the bones of people who walked this patch of earth five thousand years ago. Spine-tingling stuff.
By this point I was feeling my three week running hiatus and was walking for a breather. Ish came up beside me and asked if I was OK and we got chatting. Turns out she'd been a spectator and support crew at this race for many years with her husband, and then decided she would have a go, and now here she was, one mile off finishing. Brilliant! She told me my leggings had been keeping her going :o)
Eventually, we came off the Downs back into the valley which of course meant.....
More mud. And about seven stiles. Just what you need at the end of nine miles of challenging running :o). I was running again by this point and finished more or less where I thought I would, not super speedy but not too slow either. For the first one back after a break I'll take that.
When I got back to race HQ, I was greeted with a sight that cross country runners the world over will recognise....
Piles of muddy fell and trail shoes, left outside to preserve the sanity of the hall caretaker.
The warmth inside was once again very welcome, as was the water and cake. I changed into warm kit and collected my beautiful mug which was in place of a medal or technical t-shirt and was made at local pottery White Horse (this was quite a lot of the reason I entered us for the race). Here I am with it near one of the ancient stones that make up the outer circle at Avebury.
Thank you, Marlborough Running Club!
Hope you've all had a lovely weekend? It's very nice to be back running and competing again. Next up, a monstrously hilly race round the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast. Can't wait. Bring it on :o).