Where’s the Mud? The Joy of Cross-Country Racing

Cross-country racing

I hated cross-country racing at school. While I didn’t have to deal with the mud that is a little more typical in the UK, I was not what you’d say sporty.

Why? I went to a competitive school but I don’t have a competitive nature. I hated individual sports and I particularly hated team sports. I could never quite see the point.  

So I decided to ask some folks about what they thought and this is what they had to say –


Hated it

Emma – I used to hide in the wood and pretend I had run it!

Claire – Hated it with a passion and tried to come with every excuse to get out of it

Mary – I wasn’t a fan but I think it was because of the competitive nature of it (i.e. having the sporty people in your house shouting at you to try harder) rather than the actual activity itself.

Mel – Hated it – used to sneak off behind a tree for a cigarette and wait for the athletic ones to come back on the second lap.

John – never did any running at school and hated running in later life, even in football & rugby training

Danny – I hated it – I’d sprint the first 100m, which was what I was good at, then walk the next 4.9 miles … all the while being shouted at by Mr X, the PE teacher who only cared about the sporty kids…discovering I could actually run long distance at the ripe old age of 48 was a revelation…

Peter – Hate, but preferable to football which I was rubbish at. Used to “get lost” in Epping Forest

Heather –  absolutely HATED cross country at school. Was made to run through the sand dunes and along the beach. It is now one of my favourite runs – minus the navy knickers!

Somewhere in between

Eric – Didn’t mind it. So long as wasn’t in a classroom I was happy.

James – wasn’t a big fan but didn’t hate them!

Lexie – Never did X-country but despised all running – think because never really taught how to RUN so awful if not natural athlete

Katherine – I never tried it – it was what all the sporty girls did and I wasn’t.

Gareth – I didn’t like PE at school and generally tried to avoid active participation. However one day I thought I’d try running a cross country race properly and came second. My only moment of sporting prowess at school. Everything returned to avoidance after that! Still seems a bit odd that there was no follow up or encouragement from the school.

Loved it

Nick – Cross-country runs for me meant happiness. The pain, colder, wetter, muddier, the better.

Harriet – I actually loved it but was a rebellious child (and no doubt a pain to teach) so moaned and dragged my heels. Thought it was the best winter sports.

Janette – I loved it 🙂

Matt – I used to love the X country runs at school!

Derek – I quite enjoyed it and was persuaded by my teachers into the county championships one year. Of course, I had no competitive experience and was very seriously out of my depth. I’m still compensating for it…..

Tom – have always liked x-country, started running it when I was 13 yrs old … x-country was my best season when I ran competitively, much better than a track or road. More challenging.

Michelle – I have run my entire life. Started with my father when I was 5 yrs. Ran XC. Love it all!

So the views seems pretty evenly split.


But things do change as you grow up and school years move further away. Running at school meant competition. Running as an adult….well? I run because I run.  Sometimes alone, sometimes with my club.


So yesterday I went along to Nonsuch Park in Surrey for the first of the women’s cross-country with my club. A 6km race.


I’d drunk baked a Nutella and banana cake the night before – a drink after work that turned into a number of drinks – arriving at the pick-up point feeling a little fragile but with cake in hand.

We got ourselves organised, numbers pinned and proceeded to the start line with a few hundred others. It was one of those races in looking around, I knew I’d be at the back of the pack – it wouldn’t be the first set of club races where this would be the case!

And off we went. Two figure 8 laps through fields and woods. Within 200 metres, I could already see runners far ahead. The skies had cleared a little and with it, the temperature had risen to the mid-teens (c).  And gaps started to widen up between us less speedy ones at the back.

I was feeling relaxed  – my running this year has been somewhat shite. Being a miserable git will do this to a person. A couple of months ago I decided to stop being a miserable git and work on finding my running mojo again. I’ve had some real shockers of runs but recently have gotten up to about 5 miles at a plodding pace.

But I’m slow and the gaps got even wider…. I’d done this race 4 years ago at an even slower pace but there were quite a few slow runners. At this race, they were all so speedy. Except for me that is!

I decided to enjoy the run – it was lovely being in the country with the fresh air and autumn colours and the marshals were doing a superb job of cheering us on and letting us know about turns and random holes in the ground.

My running felt uncomfortable in places and I just couldn’t get my rhythm right. But I kept a steady pace – about 10 min miles – not fast but nothing to be ashamed of at this stage of the game.  While I didn’t come in last place, it was pretty close, with folks from my running club cheering me on.


Ahh, we then got to eat cake and drink much coffee – good times!


What was a little strange was the absence of mud. I came away with my shoes as clean as when I’d put them on.



Would I do this again?

So what do I now think of cross-country? I enjoy road running, but there’s some special about getting off the road and back to a bit of nature,  of having to pay attention to my footfall and running free of music – the view providing ample distraction. More cross-country runs and races for me.

While I can’t say I love the racing bit of it, I certainly didn’t hate it as I once did! And I do love a good run in the woods on weekends.

So here’s to cross-country running with or without the mud!


(October 2016)

2 thoughts on “Where’s the Mud? The Joy of Cross-Country Racing

  1. I love the autumn colours of cross country. I even like the mud, it reminds me of childhood and the abandonment we had to run in leaves then. I don’t like the competitiveness of the races though, I’m slow and always last, running by myself wishing i had someone to share the moment with. I dislike the feeling of everyone waiting for me, but I enjoy the camaraderie of the club and the positivity of its members.

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