Monday, March 27, 2006

Cross Country

I'm going back to Ripon for a blast from the past on Sunday. From what I've read the 10k I'm doing at Fountains Abbey is more of a cross country type course rather than a road race, along the same lines of the 10k I did for them at Harewood House.

That reminds me of the day when, overweight and unfit, I changed schools at 16 and discovered that my new school in Ripon made sixth formers do compulsory cross country. Horror wasn't quite the word.

Looking back, I just wish that school sport had been more inspiring. I've come to realise that exercise really is the key for me and that, before I hit hockey and other forms of torture in secondary school, I actually enjoyed it. I wonder what went wrong, and wish I'd had some form of encouragement to find something I liked doing, and to improve at my own speed.

At primary school I ran and cycled and swam and played rounders and was good at high jump. OK, so that was only because I was taller than the other girls my age, but I was still good at it. One thing I blocked out of my mind for a long time, then remembered when my last trainee was planning to move to the town where I grew up was the Mount Run. There were two schools next to each other in my town, with a hill, The Mount, behind it. It was a pathetic little hill, to tell the truth, but it seemed big when I was 10.

Every year, the two schools would organise a run against each other, up and around the hill. I don't really have any strong memories of it, but I didn't hate it. I seem to remember that I could do it, and that it didn't cause me any particular stress. I wasn't the best, but I was passable. How things changed.

When I went to grammar school, the focus was on academic stuff instead of sport. There was compulsory PE, but not a huge amount (we were discussing school sport at lunch today, and some people had to do far more than I did, as in fact did I when I changed schools). The attitude was very much that you could do it, or you couldn't. If you could you got the attention, you played for the school, if you couldn't you were a lost cause. You would have to do something, but you wouldn't be taught how you could improve.

And running, running was punishment. If you played up in PE they made you run round the school field (it was a long way!) Running never seemed to be something that was taught in its own right. Team sports were fine, there were sprints (hah, that doesn't quite describe the speed I ran them) around sports day, but running, proper distance running never happened.

I still did a surprising amount of sport though. I was enthusiastic rather than talented, but looking back, the fact that I was enthusiastic should have told me something. I sometimes got to play for the netball and rounders teams. Some cynics would say that they were short on bodies those weeks... and I wouldn't necessarily agree. But the fact is, I kept on making myself available, volunteering to play.

Maybe I wasn't the inactive fat girl I always assumed I was.

But then I changed school and, although the focus was still on the academic stuff at the new school, and I was in the sixth form where, at my previous school, my PE efforts could have been limited to relatively gentle, fun, unsupervised exercise like table tennis and trampolining and swimming rather than team sports, at my new school PE got taken to a whole new level.

And that wasn't a level that I liked. Had I built up with a sensible programme then that first cross country run (and those that followed) might not have been so bad, but having not run for 5 or 6 years, a hilly, muddy cross country run in the middle of winter could very nearly have put me off running for life. There was never any advice, on how to get better and faster and able to run more of it. We were just pushed out of the door and marshalled round the course. I remember that my biggest fear was actually NOT coming last, because if there were enough people behind me (generally because they'd snuck behind a tree for a fag on the way round) it might mean I'd get bullied into doing house cross country on top of the regular PE lessons. At least coming last you were immune to that!

When I went to university, the memory of cross country was still fresh enough that the thought of having to go on regular runs was enough to put me off joining the rugby team. But I suppose it's a testament to the runner hiding inside me that eventually the will to run overcame those memories, I laced my trainers up again and headed outside.

So, it's full circle and I'll be running cross country in Ripon again. Part of me really hopes to see my old PE teacher, preferably as I overtake her and leave her behind in the mud!


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