Members of Biggleswade AC’s multi-award-winning ladies’ cross-country squad donned the Bedfordshire vest for the Inter-Counties Championships, before promptly splattering it with mud in lamentable conditions at Prestwold Hall in Loughborough. Hannah Broom, Isobel Everest, Elaine Livera and Natalie Morgan were in action for the ladies’ race, having qualified through January’s county championships. Joining them was Elliott Swinburne in the under-15 boys’ race.
Hannah, the club’s secretary, said: “I couldn’t believe I was donning the county vest. The place was a bog – it made Glastonbury look positively dry! We looked down the hill and could see nothing but sloppy, slippery, mud.
“From the gun there was a stampede. The noise was deafening and – oh my – it was ruthless. There was pushing and shoving – I had not been in a race like this before. I decided to back off slightly and get over to the side to try and stay out of trouble and stay upright! Mud was splattering my face, my arms, my legs. It was not like the Three Counties XC races.”
Elaine, who had arrived carrying an injury, added: “The sound was crazy! I’ve never heard so many people run through so much mud before! Suddenly the wave of runners in front of me parted and I had to dodge a girl who had taken a muddy tumble, almost causing a pile up myself. I thought, surely the whole course isn’t like this? But it definitely was – all 8.5km of the course was a mud bath. It was chaos.”
Hannah continued: “I literally followed Isobel’s back, she’s an excellent XC runner and picks the best ground to run on so I decided to stick as long as I could with her and copy what she did. The ground was horrendous, my feet had a complete mind of their own, slipping and sliding. On a long drag of a hill I did not really notice it as I was too busy looking where to put my feet. But then round the dogleg corner which was a short sharp down, my feet were sliding and skidding everywhere, I was facing the wrong way, I felt like I was skiing – I thought I was a goner. I braced for the fall but instead I managed to crash into another girl and bounced back. To my absolute amazement I was still on my feet and still in the race.”
Elaine would prove to be the second Bedfordshire runner home, in 39:08 for 117th place. She added: “I would have really loved the hills on the course had there been no mud – I always run best on a hilly course. It was only afterwards, when we were looking through pictures, that we realised that it was actually rather undulating. We were all concentrating so hard on putting one foot in front of the other and staying upright that we didn’t know how many times we had gone uphill.”
Hannah and Isobel continued to run in close proximity. Hannah said: “The mud became heavier and it was really starting to sap my legs. I heard Rob Morgan and [her partner] Jon Fediw shout ‘It’s the final push!’ so I thought this is it, and tried as much as I could up the muddy uphill finish as fast as I could. I had done it. I only started running in 2014 and never dreamed I would be running at county level, this was a huge personal achievement for me.” Hannah’s 194th place in 42:03 was just behind Isobel (41:57, 190th place).
Natalie was also finding conditions fraught: “It was a quagmire. There was no firm ground and I struggled to find my footing. It was taking all my concentration and effort to remain upright. By the second lap and some three or so miles in, I was despondent and ready to give up … I had had enough of the sloshing around.
“Then I realised I was catching the two runners in front and my competitive spirit returned. I focused on them and ploughed on, managing to eventually reach them and overtake. Buoyed by this, I entered the final section of the course and only a mile left to go. Another runner was now in my sights, and I thought if I could just chase her down too that would get me through to the end. I found I was indeed gaining on her and with less than half a mile to the finish we were side by side. I rounded the corner, overtook her and skidded to the finish line.
“Not my finest, most confident race, but it was a great opportunity to run for Bedfordshire, and an experience I will never forget.” Natalie was rewarded with a placing of 252nd, in 45:51.
In the under-15 boys’ race, run on a shorter, but no less muddy circuit, Elliott managed 301st place in 24:44.