South of England Masters XC Horspath Oxford

It is 7am on a Saturday morning and time to rise and shine as 100 miles on the road awaits. Hopefully the journey will be without incident but we have built in extra time just in case and of course when you build in extra time you always get to the course early. We were heading for Horspath, Oxford to run the South of England (SEAA) Masters XC (an XC race of 6k for women over 40 and men over 70). Teams are split 40-49, 50-59, 60-69 for the women and there are individual medals in five year age groups.). The SEAA XC is held at different venues in the South East – last year was Biggleswade and in the time I have been competing it has also been held at Lloyd Park, Croydon, Clayhills, London and Trent Park, Cockfosters.
We made a base camp on Brighton and Hove ladies blanket, collected our race numbers, bought a programme (not just to see our names in print but also because (a) it was our chance to have an idea of our opposition and (b) it had a course map – not that we were any the wiser on seeing said map so we headed off for a recce and asked a few marshalls if we were going the right way!)
During the recce the M50 and M60 mens 10k race was happening so we had to leap out of the way as the lead runners came through. Before we knew it it was time for a few strides then to the start line for an 11:43 (precisely) start. There was no briefing, no countdown a la parkrun – suddenly the gun was fired and we were off.
We could not have asked for a better day for a run – cloudless skies, cool but not freezing temperatures and hardly a breath of wind. The course was a proper XC course and had a bit of everything from Lancing to Plumpton via Bexhill – a bit of playing field to help us get going, a narrow bridge to cross, fields to run through, some frozen bits of ground, a bit of mud, a steep but short hill to wheeze up, a steep descent then another shorter uphill, then mud. Plumptonesque mud although mercifully no cow poo. There was deep, squelchy clay and I managed to fall in the deepest, wettest part. A few expletives were uttered but what for me was important was to get up, carry on and not to lose any places to anyone. I carried on through the mud, on to the playing field then 600m to the finish managing to slip (but not fall) on the turn.
Gratefully I crossed the finish and I could see a couple of Orange W50 numbers ahead of me so thought I had a chance of being in the individual medals. Clare came in soon after me then Jen – all the time I was watching to see Orange numbers and it looked as though we were first W50 team.
We did a few group photos with Brighton and Hove ladies and team photos with Vicki who was there in her capacity as Sussex ladies team manager then my priority after some assistance from Emma Rollings and her wet wipes was to head for the Ladies to attempt to wash off some of the mudpack mud which had crusted on to my hands before I could attempt to put on some clean clothing. I went through most of the Horspath paper towels in operation demud – oops.
We knew the results would take a while to come through and Patisserie Valerie at Beaconsfield Services was calling so we hit the road and headed to croque monsieur and cappuchino land (but we did forgo the cakes). What was even better was a phone call from Vicki while we were stuffing our faces to confirm we had indeed won Team Gold and myself individual bronze. Three very happy, replete and content Arena ladies then headed home.
Caroline W