Sunday, 30 January 2011

VLM week -12: The week of the Southern Nationals cross country

The Hampshire XC in Jan
Three weeks earlier

Well, I only logged one run this week, but it was a toughie! I took part in my second cross country race, the Southern Nationals at Parliament Hill Fields - a really ‘iconic’ event. It was a bitterly cold day, as we travelled up to London on the train. I am not sure that I ever felt totally warm from 8am to about 9pm! We arrived at Hampstead Heath to catch the start of the U13 boys race. That took me right back to my first days at Bloxham - ahhh! There they were, rushing up the hill, arms pumping, going at it for all they were worth. Then, of course, I remembered that I would be there myself soon enough. Or, as I found out, not soon enough really, with my race being at 2.50pm. So, we shivered for several hours (at one point I found the warmth of the changing rooms and just stayed there for about half an hour). Finally, the off - nearly 900 men racing up the first hill, and then sliding down the foot-deep mud on the other side, just about staying upright. It was a like a peaceful version of the Somme, arms flailing, legs slipping, as my trail shoes failed to find any grip. The middle part of the 3 mile lap was characterised by brutal short and sharp climbs, all like a mudslide, so that I took on the role of those wildebeest that you see crossing the Masai Mara, the ones that go across a river and then can’t quite get out on the other bank. That was me, that was. The final mile of the lap was a bit more balanced, being like an undulating trail through the woods, but still no picnic. One lap down, two more to go, 9 miles in total! I have never felt so totally blown at the end of a race. Even marathon tired is different - that’s more about endurance, whereas this is speed and stamina.

Suffice it to say that the end, when it came, was blissful. After a quick shower, and much post-race analysis and bravado, we headed off to the Southampton Arms, a wonderful, wonderful pub. It only serves independent ales and ciders, and one Camden lager for the inveterate drinker of that style. Cash only, too. You can only get this kind of specialism in a big city. You may never go out to Hampstead, but if you do, take the Gospel Oak tube and then walk up to 139 Highgate Road. Great.

Not strictly speaking part of last week, however I am in Manchester as I write this, and I have just been for a short (and very cold) walk around the city centre. Never having been here before, I am pretty impressed by the scale of it, and I like the trams! I was fascinated to come across the Fourth Church of Christ. Wouldn’t you really want to join the first one, given the option? Or, maybe the second, if that offered something different, and felt the need to break away. But the Fourth? What, I wonder, was the motivation to form this one? No doubt in the mists of time there was some schism over a marginal point of doctrine that had a group pick up their hassocks, hurrumph a lot and march out, vowing never again to talk to the Third Church!

On now to wine of the week (before I get myself into choppy waters), which is Wirra Wirra Sparrow's Lodge Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. What a beautiful wine this was. On the nose, ripe blackcurrants and licorice, really clean and intense. A rich, ripe palate, full in the mouth (and at 14.5% perhaps that’s no surprise) with great depth of flavour, and a long, lingering aftertaste. Tannins were soft, suggesting that a bit of aging will be fine, or you could tuck in now. It is very tempting to have a go at another bottle very soon! This is also under screwcap, so I wonder if the development will continue? Also worth noting that this wine had about two hours decanting and the licorice smell did start to fade later.

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