Some of you may know a bit about my running story, but in short, I haven’t always been a runner. Yes, like many women, I discovered reasonably early on that it helps to stay fit and active if I wanted to comfortable with my body (and wear the clothes I wanted to). In my early 20s I gave running a good crack and entered a few races, but didn’t really stick to it.
Fast forward several years. I’m now in my early 30s, and for the past year I have thought of myself as an actual, legitimate runner. I have the shoes, all the clothes, the gadgets, and even a coach. I love the challenge of a tempo run, tackling some hills, or pushing my way through long run day. And don’t even get me started on the exhilaration of lining up for a road race, whether it be a quick 5k or cheeky half.
It’s all of those feelings that have me going back for more, trying my hand at whatever I can running wise, and putting myself through what’s ended up being a steep learning curve. I did 5k and 10k races without too much hesitation, a half marathon with some trepidation, a 100k team relay needing a little convincing, and a full marathon only because I knew I had a pretty alright coach by my side. But then the words “cross country” were whispered my way by trusty Coachy McCoach Face (A.K.A. instigator of all things that scare me and make me stronger).
If you’re anything like me, the words ‘cross country’ bring back vivid memories of high school. Flashbacks to being that awkward kid that didn’t really like to exercise, but once a year was forced to run for what felt like an eternity. Only to come last and not really know why we were being put through this apparent hell anyway.
Somehow, despite all this I found myself signing up to the St George Classic as part of the Waratah Run Series at Scarborough Park in Ramsgate. With a choice of 2k, 4k, 7k and 10k, I decided to go all out and do the 10k. With pep talks from my coach in the days leading up (desperately needed because the prospect of cross country had me more nervous than the idea of my first marathon!), I rushed straight from work to the race on Saturday afternoon.
I didn’t really know what to expect. I figured it couldn’t be as bad as my high school nightmares, but I honestly wasn’t expecting much. Maybe a bunch of really fit looking people, wearing not much, gathering around their Garmins and discussing times, paces, strategies, their next meet. Much to my surprise and relief I came across a pretty decent set-up. What struck me at first was how family friendly everything was. There were the basics like the coffee van, and sausage sizzle, but then there were a few stalls from the likes of Running Science, a jumping castle, and even sumo suits in case you fancied some post-race wrestling. Clearly a lot of preparation and thought had gone into this, and there were families all over the place having a great day out and doing a little running on the side too!
When it came to the actual race I must admit it was a tad confusing initially. Having tried my hand at TrackRun, I had already discovered that athletic events such as this aren’t like your standard road race. Their whole set up and way they’re run is different. I didn’t know where the start line was, I wasn’t sure what, if anything I had to do registration wise, and I wasn’t even sure whether I was standing in the middle of the race course at any given time! Thankfully I spotted Nicole, and the wonderful RMA and NSW Athletics ambassador, Anna Fitzgerald, pretty early on and was guided through where everything was, shown the maps of the course, talked through how cross country events work, and shown where I could warm up. This was a massive help in terms of settling my nerves and making me feel more comfortable and like a belonged.
After only a quick warm-up (my own fault for arriving with not much time to spare), I found myself at the start line surrounded by mostly males of all ages. I was a little put off as I was used to lining up for races and having a much greater female presence around me, with a lot more ‘amateur’ looking runners by my side. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case in my event, as I later found out that this race also incorporated the men’s 10k championship. And as it was an Athletics NSW event, the majority of the runners were club runners, so wearing their fancy and very official looking club gear. Despite all of this I just focused on my race and making the most of what I was about to experience.
The gun went off and we were off and racing. I was really conscious to go out at my own pace and run my own race. I didn’t want to get caught up with others’ paces as I knew there was no way I could keep up with much of the field, and that was fine by me. As I didn’t know what to really expect of a cross country course, I found myself really loving where I was running. The course was pretty flat, and was a mix of grass, basic trail, and sealed footpath. It was made up of two large loops, and 2 smaller loops. As I was running loops, my head went a little crazy knowing exactly what was to come and how much further I had left, but it still just felt great.
The field wasn’t crowded, and there were plenty cheers from fellow runners and spectators right along the course. Everything was well marked out, with plenty of volunteers so there was no risk of going the wrong way or getting lost. They even had photographers on the day to hopefully capture the dream shot (you know the one, where you have air, your smiling, you only have one chin, don’t look like you’re dying, and it’s worthy of a profile pic).
As I made my sprint to the finish line I knew I had snagged myself a 10k PB. I managed to secure myself a time of 54:36, taking 2:30 minutes off my 10k PB. While my time was over 20 minutes slower than the winner, you wouldn’t have known it on the day. I got all the cheers and fanfare of anyone else running that race. I finished feeling like I belonged and keen to come back for more. Even better was having my daughter and parents there to watch me finish (and then force me onto the jumping castle!). For me it was a brilliant introduction to cross country, and a beautiful family day out.
I’m already planning my next cross country races on May 27th at Miranda Park, and can’t wait for the big event at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre at Horsley Park on June 3rd. And honestly, given that they’re run by Athletics NSW they really are cheap compared to most of the races on offer during the winter season. My biggest wish for the next events is to be lining up with more women, and in particular more of my RMA girls.