11 December 2016
Lately life seems to have been nothing but one race after another. This morning we were up early yet again, heading for a race. This though, would be the last race of the year. In an epic piece of bad planning on the part of the people who plan races, there were actually three races going on this morning in different parts of Hampshire. Without a time machine though, we could only go to one and, as I’d been asked to be the keeper of the numbers for the CC6, we were off the Janesmoor Pond.
Yesterday was very wet, meaning this was going to be a muddy race. Luckily the forecast for today was cold and bright and, when we set off there was frost on the car windscreen and blue sky overhead. Somewhere on the motorway this all changed though and a thick fog rolled across the road, patchy at first and then getting thicker until we could hardly see the road ahead.
We pulled up at the Janesmoor Pond car park at the same time as Darren and Lucy so at least we knew we wouldn’t be the only Spitfires there. Mind you, if we had been, my number taking job would have been considerably easier. At first it looked as though the sun was going to burn off the fog and, by the time we’d got the pop up tent up, Luis, Ben and Sharon had arrived. This was the sum total of Spirtfire participation, meaning my number taking skills wouldn’t be be too badly taxed.
Being the last race before Christmas there were santas everywhere. All the marshals were dressed in Santa suits. At least they were easy to spot in the fog, which was rapidly winning in the battle against the sun.
By the time everyone lined up for the race start the fog had become so thick I began to wonder if the runners would be able to find their way around the course. Then they were off, dashing across the muddy grass with the wonderful Annie bringing up the rear. The camera did a better job of seeing through the fog than my eyes did and I completely lost all the Spitfires in the crowd.
There are some fantastic trails at Janesmoor Pond and my original plan had been to have a little wander while the race was on. The fog was so thick and the mud so deep I quickly decided this was not a good idea at all. If I went into the woods I might never come out again and then there would be no one to collect the Spitfire’s numbers. In the end I decided to stick to the path and maybe head towards the pond, thinking it might make for some interesting photos with the fog swirling across it.
This might have been true if I’d actually been able to find the Pond in the fog. As it was I could barely see a few feet ahead of me. With each careful step trees and shrubs surprised me by appearing out of the murk. The path curved and I was sure the Pond must be right ahead. Then I looked back and could no longer even tell where the race start was. I thought I’d better retrace my steps lest I walked right into the pond before I saw it.
Walking back seemed to be taking a lot longer than I’d expected and I began to worry I’d somehow taken a wrong turn. When, finally, all the running club flags materialised from the whiteness ahead, it was something of a relief.
Slowly, I picked my way across the boggy grass, searching for the finish line that had been swallowed up by the thickening fog in my absence. Standing beside the Santa marshals I wondered how on earth the runners were managing to find their way? With visibility so poor and mud so thick I began to worry. Falling seemed a distinct possibility and with falls come injuries. There have been quite enough of those this year already.
Luis was the first Spitfire to emerge from the gloom. By the time I’d realised it was him he was already crossing the finish line. The fog billowed and eddied, occasionally disgorging another runner. It seemed to be thinning, at least in patches, revealing large, muddy puddles pockmarked by the deep footprints of the runners who’d passed.
The next Spitfire to materialise was Darren, splashing through the mud and sending plumes of thick, galucous water into the air. He saw me as he reached firmer ground and held up his hands in acknowledgement. His lower legs were coated in mud.
Commando was close behind. He hit the mud and sent it spraying up into the air. Then he seemed to lose his footing, trail shoes sliding on the unstable ground. I sucked in my breath, thinking he would surely fall but, somehow, he regained his balance and kept going, flying across the more solid ground to the finish.
Three Spitfires were still out on the course somewhere and the three, muddy finishers gathered to compare notes and cheer while I stayed poised, camera at the ready. The next to slosh through the muddy wallow was Lucy. A huge, viscid brown wave seemed to take her by surprise but she kept her footing and was the first female Spitfire across the line.
Finally, Ben and Sharon appeared. At first it looked as if they were going for the sensible option and skirting the worst of the mud but, at the last moment, Sharon plunged through sending up a spray of water rather than mud.
With everyone safely back and the fog finally beginning to lift we gathered for a post race team photo, all muddy legs and big grins. Somehow they’d all made it back. No one had got lost in the fog and no one had fallen, although Ben had a nasty looking cut in the back of his leg from a tangle with a bramble.
Numbers were noted down ready to be sent off to Kylie who would do the technical stuff later. Now all that was left to do was fold down the tent, a task that has proved frustratingly difficult in the past. Commando and Luis tried to tackle it but, after a promising start, it obstinately refused to stay folded. Eventually a runner from another club came to their aid. For a while it seemed he had it under control but, even with his expertise, the blasted thing escaped his clutches and sprang open again before it was finally beaten into submission. For us spectators it was an entertaining spectacle but we had to keep our laughing to a minimum to avoid upsetting those brave enough to try to tame the recalcitrant tent.
We’d arrived at Janesmoor Pond in thick fog. Now the race was over the sun finally came out. If only it had managed that earlier.
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