MUD, mud, glorious mud!

Or perhaps more aptly, I should start this column with the pun 'mud, sweat and tears' after finding myself in a sticky situation - literally - at the South of England Cross Country Championships at London's Parliament Hill, on Saturday.

I was encouraged to take part by Colchester and Tendring Athletic Club coach Bob Kimber, who advised me it would be top training for my upcoming Virgin Money London Marathon debut.

Bob's vastly experienced and a font of knowledge when it comes to all things athletics.

And while I might not have agreed with his wisdom while wrestling the thick, treacle-like mud, it certainly was an extraordinary experience.

Just being part of such a vast, prestigious event felt special.

Many of you will be aware of, or even competed on, the hallowed turf of Parliament Hill.

To cross country runners, it's the equivalent of playing football, rugby or cricket at Wembley, Twickenham or Lord's.

Basically, it's a special place and a hive of activity on major days like Saturday.

Thousands of runners from the south of England, from Cornwall to Norfolk, descended on Parliament Hill, a sprawling open space in the south-east corner of Hampstead Heath.

And after numerous high-octane junior races (each churning the soggy, battered surface), it was my turn to squelch to the startline for the senior men's race.

Just for 'fun', the race kicks off with a punishing, seemingly never-ending hill, 98 metres (322ft) high.

It then snakes around a three-lap, nine-mile course, laced with more hills, twists and turns.

Parliament Hill is notable for its views of the capital's skyline and, from the summit, you can make out the Houses of Parliament.


However, just looking up from the ground is a challenge in itself with tree roots, rabbit holes and lashings of thick mud requiring full attention - both mentally and physically.

I can't lie and say I found this easy. Just the opposite!

It was a strength-sapping, gruelling experience and, as early as the third mile, I had that foreboding "I can't do this" feeling.

At times I was moving so slowly it felt I was hardly moving, like a scene from a cartoon.

However, I got there in the end and felt strangely satisfied to finish 796th in a giant field of 1,172. Respectable (ish).

In all seriousness, while undoubtedly lung-busting, it was something I'll never forget and hopefully it's enhanced my strength and fitness ahead of my next visit to London, for the marathon, on April 26.

From my limited experience, cross country is a completely different animal to road running.

With the latter, you find a rhythm and a groove to keep going and going.

With cross country, you don't have that luxury.

It's hardcore running and those that powered and glided through the mud, finishing in the top positions, have my overwhelming respect.

Talking of the marathon, my regular training is going well.

In fact, I'm loving it and recently managed my first 20-miler - a loop that took in part of the Tendring coastline at Holland Haven and Clacton.

I'm planning another long run this Friday.

Thanks for the positive reaction to my first column.

Don't forget to drop me a line if you're preparing for your first London Marathon.

Perhaps you're about to hit a special milestone in the capital or maybe you have a top tip (not 'don't do it').

If so, my email address is

It would be great to hear from you.