When I think of cross-country racing it conjures up images of secondary school, of enforced running on freezing cold days when the hockey pitch was too waterlogged to play. With those memories at the back of my mind, I had been putting off signing up for any cross-country races before now, preferring to stick to easier terrain. However, one thing I’ve definitely learned over the past few years is that some of my most enjoyable running experiences have come from pushing myself out of my comfort zone. So when I heard that some friends would be taking part in the Race Organisers 10km on the trails of Hylands Park in Chelmsford this weekend, I jumped at the chance.
My choice of date for my first foray into cross-country running wasn’t ideal however, on probably the wettest morning of the month as the rain lashed down over the starting area. But what better way I guess, to get a realistic taste of British off-road running!
I’ve run a few events with The Race Organiser before, including the fabulous Draycote Water 20 mile race as part of my Berlin Marathon training, and their fun City Scramble treasure hunt challenge; so knew I would be in for a well-run event, and this was no different.
We set off in well-spaced intervals, and as I spent what felt like a rather long time tentatively slipping and sliding through the first 2km of woodland, slightly too scared to fully trust my footing in the mud, I did wonder if I had made a mistake! However, we soon opened up onto the grassy fields and gravel tracks of Hylands Park where I felt more comfortable to stretch my legs. Faster runners overtook, looking completely at home in the terrain, sporting vests and mud-splattered legs.
The second lap brightened up enough for me to ditch my waterproof layer and really enjoy the scenery. The bluebells were out in full bloom in one section of the forest and I found myself running with a huge smile on my face. I loved the chance to take in some fresh air and chat to other runners on the way round, with a noticeably more relaxed atmosphere than other races I have taken part in lately. I finished the 10km in 1hr3min, a rather leisurely pace for me, but this definitely wasn’t the day to worry about time. Instead, it was all about trying something new and having some fun in the process!
I’ll definitely be dusting off my trail shoes for some more cross-country adventures this year, and would encourage anyone to check out the rest of the Summer 10km series which will be held in various locations across Essex each month. I’ve learnt to trust my trail shoes more on the muddy terrain and certainly not to worry about getting my feet wet. But until the next time, happy running!