Oh for crying out loud! I really don’t know why I put myself through it. Saturday morning I was scheduled to run the third race in the Lord Mayor’s 5 Alive Challenge. It was a 2-mile cross country in the Phoenix Park. Cross country is always challenging, but 2 miles should be fine. Having said that, I had to walk every step of last week’s Raheny 5 Mile because I knew I was brewing a hip flexor strain. This is a recurring injury which I blame on an old horse-riding accident, what you might call ‘an unplanned dismount’ when I came down from a height and landed on my right hip. In the hospital, the doctor said “I have good news and bad news” – I kid you not! The good news was that I hadn’t broken my hip. The bad news was that I had torn all the ligaments in my hip and, I quote, “That is more painful than a broken hip”. Gee, thanks. Anyway, every so often the pain kicks in and I need to rest, ice, take anti-inflammatories. Then I begin a programme of stretching and strengthening. In fairness, if I did my strength and conditioning exercises on an ongoing basis, this injury probably wouldn’t flare up so often.

Anyway, back to Saturday morning. Now, I always get up at 8am on a Saturday morning because it is parkrunday. The clock is set and as soon as it goes off I’m out of the bed on automatic pilot, because that is what I do on a Saturday morning. For some reason, the automatic pilot failed to engage and I found myself playing with the idea of going deeper under the duvet and just staying there. Maybe it was because the weather forecast was for ice and frost, and it just seemed like a good idea to stay where I was.

Something got the better of me and I found myself getting out of the bed into the layers of running gear that I had laid out the night before. Then the obligatory pre-race breakfast of porridge (with dried fruit, mixed seeds, chopped nuts and a dash of cinnamon – yum, to be finished two hours before the race starts) and a cup of tea. I explained to the dog why he couldn’t come with me – he wasn’t a bit happy about it, and I set off.

At the Garda Boat Club I collected my race number and began to mingle with other race goers. I love the Lord Mayor’s Challenge as everyone is very friendly and supportive. As I looked around, I hoped that no-one would be intimidated by the fact that today they were racing against the current Kildare County Cross Country Champion (in my age category) ☺. I met some Sloggers to Joggers and a lovely lady named Carmen and her partner Mark, who accompanied me to the start line and listened to me jabbering on about running. We had our warm-up and photo-call at the start line and we were off.

Within moments, we had our first puddle diver. The poor lady was so intent on missing a puddle, that she lost her balance and landed in a much bigger one. Undaunted, she got straight back up and carried on. I felt so bad for her – she was very wet and muddy – it wasn’t what she needed at the very start of a challenging 2 miler. I’m sure it’s little consolation to her that we were secretly thanking her for pointing out to us that we needed to watch our footing. The route was a two-lap course of pure muck. And as if it wasn’t mucky enough on the first lap, it was even more slithery and slimy on the second lap. God help the men, who would have to do three laps on a path of every-increasing muckiness. And there were hills. Steep hills. Mucky hills. I usually like to refer to hills as ‘undulating landscape’ – it sounds much gentler. But these were hills. And they were so mucky that you couldn’t take any advantage of the downhill. You really had to watch your footing. If you kept to the very edge, you might find the going a bit firmer, but that meant you had longer grass to negotiate so it didn’t really make things any easier.

I did my usual shout outs of “Woohoo” or “We’re doing this” or “It’s a hill, get over it”, as much to keep myself going as anything else, not knowing whether I’d be inviting a smile or a scowl from other participants. But, it was a very, very tough race. I reminded myself, often, that I’m the current Kildare County Cross Country Champion (in my age category) ☺ but that didn’t seem to help. I was so long out on the course that I had plenty of time to reflect on why on earth I was even here this morning. I thought back to my temptation to stay in bed and seriously questioned whether it would have been a much better idea to succumb to that temptation. Again, I’d find myself encouraging others around me, pointing out that we’d finish this, we’d have completed the third race of the Challenge, and we just needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. At one point, a lady briefly ran on the outside of the course markers and I jokingly suggested that she’d be disqualified for that, to which she responded “Oh God, I hope so! Please, someone tell me to stop and go home!” It was that kind of a day.

That’s me in the middle – No. 280. Isn’t it gas how I look like I’m enjoying myself?!

And so, I eventually finished, cheered over the line by other 5-Alivers. We all congratulated each other for finishing and marked the fact that we had now completed 60% of the Lord Mayor’s Challenge. I was pleased that I had minded myself enough that my hip wasn’t sore, so I hadn’t aggravated my injury at all. We had five weeks before the next race so I should be in the full of my health by then.

I was heading back to the Garda Boat Club when I saw the men’s race come speeding by. I felt so guilty, as they had been there cheering us on and now I was contemplating drinking tea and eating cakes while they had the even more challenging job of completing 4 mucky, hilly miles. So I found myself a great vantage point from which I could cheer them on, and I had great fun. By the time they had come round the third lap, I was beginning to sound like a broken record, and I’m sure they were experiencing a déjà vu! When the back of the pack passed me for the last time, I headed to the Boat Club where there was the most delicious fruit cake and a welcome cup of tea.

On Saturday morning, I had a choice. I could stay in the bed, all cosy and warm, or I could go out in the cold and run on mucky hills in the Phoenix Park. On Saturday evening, as I looked back on my day, I was glad that I wasn’t remembering the lie in I had. I was glad that I’d got out of the bed because I’d run a tough cross-country race, I’d completed the third element of the Lord Mayor’s Challenge, I’d met many running friends and made new ones. And that’s a much nicer thought. So, I guess it’s true – you never regret a run.