It was a coincidence, but a fitting one, that the latest This Girl Can campaign launched the Friday before the National Cross Country Championships. As I took off my warm layers and headed with the rest of my team through the club tents towards the start, a sea of men in coats parted as we strode through.
“Do you think this is what it’s like being in a girl band?” I asked my friend and teammate Laura. In my short shorts and club vest, I was certainly wearing less clothes than a member of Little Mix.
We had a 5 minute wait at the start in the cold, February wind but my Serpentine teammates formed a group hug to keep each other warm. That morning, as I’d eaten my porridge, a man from the Oxford English Dictionary had explained to a breakfast news presenter what the term ‘Squad Goals’ means. Maybe we could offer them this picture instead.
When the gun fired, more than 800 women charged up a hill. After the sweeping uphill start we rounded a corner and came down past the crowd who were loud in their support. The huge pack had spread out a little as runners found their position and it was possible to see more than a few steps ahead. And what I could see was the first water jump.
The women ahead of me threw themselves into the dark, muddy water and up the slippery bank the other side, so I followed suit. The water was cold, the mud streaked down my thighs and I smiled as I imagined myself as one of the This Girl Can billboards with the caption “This is my idea of a mud pack.”
The Nottingham course was challenging: 8k in total made up of two laps, several water jumps on each lap, a leg-zapping sharp climb up to Woolaton Hall and some knee-deep boggy sections. These were my least favourite part. I’d seen juniors walking back earlier covered head to toe in mud and I realise now how it happened. As your foot plunges into the ground, the mud wraps itself round your ankle and tries to hold you back. Move ahead to soon before your foot is released and you’ll take a tumble.
There were a couple of long flats where you could relax and just run. I turned to a woman next to me on our second lap and said “This is fun isn’t it?” She paused for a few seconds and seemed to be giving it serious thought before replying “Yes, I suppose it is.” It certainly beats a Saturday afternoon in the supermarket.
As we headed down the finishing straight a woman ahead of me turned to the crowd; her young daughter was cheering for her mummy. I hope that image of her mum sprinting down the finishing straight of the National Cross Country Championships will be a lasting one. And that she’ll know that ‘girl groups’ come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s more to aspire to than being in a pop group.
Shout out to my Serpies. Gotta get this mud out my hair.