Why I love . . . cross-country running

‘It will be painful, it will be arduous, it will hurt and it will be glorious’ – Niamh Donnelly

When people tell you about cross-country running, they usually go with the hardiest description they can think of. Something about how the mud comes up to your waist, there’s dense fog and gale force winds, and how rain streaks across your face and down your eyelashes. And they’re not wrong. When my teammates and I race, we’ve been known to lose shoes, get chilblains, and collapse over finish lines.

But, when it gets to October or November – cross-country season – my body does its duty of forgetting the pain and the only mental image I will conjure is the bright winter sun streaking across Santry Demesne and some brave youngster running across the horizon, making it look easy, with groups of parents and spectators yelping their encouragement as they win their gold medal. And what I’ll feel is a cold, sweet air at the back of my throat, the nerves and excitement to get out there under the sun and make it look as smooth and easy as that youngster.

It won’t be easy, of course. I’ll make a fool of myself. I will suffer. And there will be hundreds of others just like me, battling around with the look of why do I do this to myself etched across all of our faces. There is no answer to that question. Perhaps the cross-country winner knows the answer. But most of us will never win a cross-country race; we will simply run. It will be painful, it will be arduous, it will hurt and it will be glorious. And when the next race comes around we will do it all over again.