Since joining Sportsworld a couple of months ago, I was determined to try cross-country running at some point. Despite my best efforts, however, I never attended the weekend training sessions.

I was encouraged to go to Meet and Train in Tymon and thought that sounded like a gentle way in. I decided to buy some spikes and try them out before Tymon, and off I went to Eamonn Ceannt Park to run up and down a few slopes. The spikes felt VERY flat and VERY weird, and with my odd feet, I was a bit worried about how I would run in them on the day.

As the Meet and Train Day got closer, I became nervous. Reading WhatsApp messages in the build-up, I was so nervous that I misunderstood a few texts. Nerves do that to me. Running as an Individual, I thought, meant I wasn’t running for the Club. When I was added to a Team and saw that four races were scheduled, I thought I would have to run four on the same day. FOUR RACES, despite Zero training, never having run cross country, plus wearing weird shoes on my odd feet.

Not surprisingly, I was properly panicking when I turned up an hour early on the day. One of my running mates later remarked, ‘Your hands were shaking when you were trying to pin your race number on’. She was right.

I warmed up with the other runners, got a little more used to the strange shoes, and the nervousness shifted a little. My feet were soaked and muddy, and I thought, Hello, cross-country running. As a newbie, I was given fantastic advice and encouragement from experienced Club cross-country runners before the race, which helped give me a sense of belonging.

Lining up at the crowded start line, I suddenly felt 14 again at a school sports event and became slightly overwhelmed by the competitive vibe. I pushed those memories from my mind and took comfort that I was only running one race and not the four I had been dreading. Surely, I could manage one.

The crowding and slight jostling at the start made me take off faster than I had planned, and that, coupled with unexpected post-dodging, left me a bit rattled. I did feel the benefit of the spikes, though, as I noticed a few other runners in trainers slip and slide ahead of me. I began to realise after the first lap that it wasn’t starting too fast; that was the source of my burning lungs, but the fact that this was a whole other type of running. I didn’t have the comfort of regular breaths, my usual pattern of breathing in slightly fast and slowly out. For that, I realised you needed even surface under your feet. This was jumping over tufts of grass, running up inclines, uneven ground and splashing through mud. T’was very different from the road races I had run.

At the end of the first lap, I thought, how in the name of God am I going to do three laps when I can barely breathe? All around me, I could hear people breathing like I was; other lungs were screaming as loudly as mine, which was a small comfort.

I tried to keep sight of the other Sportsworlders to stay focused, and I prayed that I wouldn’t completely disgrace myself on my first outing for the Club. I also decided that I wouldn’t look back to see where I was on the course at any point. I was too scared of seeing I was Paddy Last or Patricia Last. (Apologies if someone called Paddy or Patricia is in the Club). I don’t mean ye!

I counted each lap and, heading into the third, realised I didn’t have the push to run like mad for the final stretch. Instead, taking encouragement from people shouting my name and lifting my spirits, I forced myself to overtake as many other runners as I possibly could. I was never so glad to finish a race so I could breathe properly again. I was handed a card with a number at the finish line. I hadn’t a clue that the number related to my finishing place and had misread it anyway. There was a great laugh when I declared, between mouthfuls of biscuits later, that my place number was 18 when it was actually 81.

So many runners from the Club and organisers checked in to see how I felt the race went, which was lovely. Let’s face it: all you want to do when you finish a race is talk about it A LOT. As a newbie, I felt so supported by the other Sportsworlders on the day, and it did make me want to do more cross country. It was a beautiful day, full of sunshine, hope and encouragement, and I am locked and loaded for the next three races. Thankfully, the next one isn’t until January, so I will put the time in for training this time!