2 August 2017
After a day spent painting my living room ceiling while the rain teemed down outside I can’t say I was much looking forward to the RR10 at Itchen valley Country Park tonight. For one, I was tired. Painting ceilings is surprisingly hard work and this one looked as if it might still need another coat. On top of this I’d been struggling with a trapped nerve in my leg. Apparently this is due to my stupidly high arches, at least according to my GP it is. Who’d have thought having high arches could cause so much pain all of a sudden? There was a great temptation to stay at home, take some painkillers and go to bed, especially as it was still raining.
Perhaps if Commando hadn’t been running, or hadn’t told me to stay home in the dry, I might not have gone. As it was I didn’t want to miss him getting muddy again and I have a terrible stubborn streak when it comes to being told what to do. So I put on my Arctic coat, wrapped the fancy camera in a plastic bag and went along. We arrived early as usual and sat in the car for quite a while, talking to the Spitfires in their cars on either side of us through the half open windows. Eventually we had to bite the bullet and face the rain though.
The Spitfires commandeered the Go Ape shelter, turning it into the unofficial Spitfires HQ for a while. Then someone said Paul was out on the field putting up the tent and flag so, rather reluctantly, we all slouched off into the rain to join him. A few mad runners went off for warm ups, Commando included. Others did a few stretches. Most us us just huddled and hoped the rain would stop. There was a rather damp team photo were almost everyone managed to smile despite the water trickling down their necks. Luis asked me to look after his glasses while he ran, prompting a discussion about what a pain it is to wear glasses when it’s raining. My own glasses were soaked and I could barely see.
“Can’t see with them, can’t see without them,” I laughed. “If we see you going the wrong way we’ll shout, just run towards the voices.”
After a pre race briefing that seemed to be mostly about mud, they were off, squelching across the field. It was hard to believe this was one of the hot sunny RR10’s last year. The rather Heath Robinson plastic bag on camera device worked well enough, although the falling rain didn’t help any. I resolved to look for a proper camera cover, if such a thing exists, and maybe a little personal tent I could sit in while the lunatics all run off to play in the mud.
Once the runners had disappeared into the next field, the cheering squad, including Tash’s two children who’d been left in my care, stood around getting wetter and wetter. We talked about waterproof clothing, the possibility of a big Spitfire tent for cheerleaders to wait in and whether there was such a thing as a reverse rain dance while we waited for them to come back. Tash’s children had been told to stay close to me. To their credit they were extremely obedient. The only problem was, with rain soaked glasses I couldn’t see very well so every time I turned around I tripped over them. The poor things were lucky to survive the ordeal and I’ve come to the conclusion I probably shouldn’t be trusted with children.
We knew the runners would soon come back across the field in the opposite direction so we had one eye on the gap in the trees all the while waiting for the first of them to appear. There was no guarantee I’d be able to spot Spitfire shirts through the rain though, or that my camera would capture any of them. As Tash is one of the fastest of the Spitfire ladies we told the children to watch out for Mummy and shout when they saw her.
As it was she was the eigthth Spitfire I spotted after a bedraggled looking Andy, Gerry, Jamie, Sam, Thomas, Keith and Kali. It wasn’t easy but I did my best to photograph as many as I could. They weren’t the best photos I’ve ever taken but a few people managed to wave as they went past and some were even smiling, which was more than I could manage.
Theresa and Tori actually looked like they were enjoying it. They both waved wildly as they ran past. Possibly a little too wildly. They could have been delirious. Even the marshal they ran past was looking at them sideways, as if he was wondering whether to call in the men in white coats to cart them off.
Once the last of the soggy Spitfire ladies had come past I could relax again for a while. Well, if you can call huddling into my artic coat looking through a blur of raindrops on my glasses relaxing. The amazing Annie wasn’t running tonight. This really wasn’t the weather for ladies in their eighties to be out, never mind running through muddy woods. When I noticed her absence at the start I’d breathed a sigh of relief. If she’d been out there in all the mud I’d have been worried about her all race.
The RR10 Course at Itchen Valley is a convoluted thing, starting and finishing at High Hill Field. The runners circle the fields, go up and down hills and meander through Vocus Copse, River Copse and parts of the Go Ape trails, somehow crossing High Hill Field in both directions. While we waited for the first finishers we caught glimpses of runners through the trees, seemingly going in several directions at once. I began to wonder if we’d ever see Luis again. Without his glasses he could we lost in the woods forever.
Eventually rain began to ease off and the first finishers began to appear. The order the Spitfire men crossed the line was fairly predictable. Nothing much had changed since their first pass across the field, apart from them all looking a lot wetter and a fair bit muddier. Despite not being able to see where he was running, Luis was amongst them. Somehow I’d missed him on the first pass. Perhaps I didn’t recognise him without his glasses?
As each Spitfire finished they joined the cheering team. The state of their legs, trainers and shorts was an indication of just how muddy it was out on the course. Cross country running in England, even in summer, is not a sport for clean freaks. It’s a surprise Commando likes it so much really.
Tash was up there with the fast boys, as expected. This did at least mean my childminding duties were over for the evening. Somehow I’d managed not to accidentally maim either of them while I was in charge, although I’m fairly sure I tried on them a couple of times. I’d call that a result, all things considered. Wet glasses, camera duties and looking after children is harder than it sounds.
As ever, it was a relief to see Commando cross the finish line in one piece. He didn’t even look particularly muddy, but he was pretty wet. In fact everyone was a great deal wetter than they’d been at the start. Even when the rain eased off it was still dripping from the trees so, at that point, standing on the field was probably the best place to be.
Lucy had another battle for the finish line. She was pretty evenly matched with the Hedge End lady running alongside her. She gave it everything she had but, right at the last moment, the Hedge End lady pipped her to the line. Top marks for effort though.
As the last runners headed for the line a few somehow managed to muster smiles. Most had looks of grim determination. Janesmoor Pond may rank as the toughest RR10 course with the steep hill at the end but, what Itchen Valley lacks in hills, it certainly made up for in mud and wetness. This was a race where just turning up and running should have been medal worthy. From the first to the last, they are all heroes in my book. Fingers crossed for sun, or at last dryness for the next one!
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