Race report: Cottrell Park Christmas Cracker 10k

Everyone has to do at least one December run in a festive get-up. 

Acceptable dress -
  • A hat, the more creative the better. Includes Santa, elf, reindeer antlers, roast turkey or Christmas pudding.
  • Full body costume. All of the above, extended tip to toe. Extra points for green tights.
  • Tinsel and Christmas tree lights (adhering to fire safety standards obvs).

It's safe to say I saw all of these at the Cottrell Park Christmas Cracker 10k, on 17 December. 

Situated just west of Culverhouse Cross, Cardiff in the village St Nicholas (the best place for a Christmas run), Cottrell Park is a stunning place. 

A golf resort may not sound like the ideal place for a race but the course bypassed most golfers, taking us along quiet fields and beautiful wooded trails. 

The weather was cold and foggy, with a weak sun failing to burn through. I cursed myself for not bringing a long sleeved top but, reaching our first hill just a few minutes in, it wasn't long before we were all warmed up.

One of the easier hills

This was my first trail race and no matter how many times I tackle hills, I feel I can never truly master them. So this was a completely new challenge for me. 

The first half was comfortable - pleasant in fact. The fog seemed to make everything eerily quiet, just the odd chatter, heavy breathing or slush of mud underfoot. Running with my friend Kate, we felt... peaceful.

Running with Kate through the fog

This all changed when we reached Bunker Hill. We were ready for it, sort of. Despite being only the second Christmas Cracker 10k, this beast was already infamous. I try to think back to how steep it actually was, and wonder if it just seemed so much worse because we'd already tackled 6k of hills and had another couple of miles of unknown terrain to follow. But at the time, it was pure unending evil. I felt myself get slower and slower. I told myself this was good, because I could see I still had a long way to the top and needed to maintain a slower pace to make it. Until I reached the point I realised I could probably walk faster. 

To conserve energy and improve efficiency, I fell back to a brisk walk. This was a bad mistake. I did not feel better. I did not feel efficient. My legs turned to lead and I knew I had lost my rhythm. So I broke back into a trot, but the damage was done.  I had to walk-run the rest of the way up. We reached the marshals at the top, who were waving cheerfully. I was expecting congratulations. Instead they said, "Continue up to the left." The ascent wasn't over. 

I met Kate at the top. She had powered on, a brilliant achievement, but she didn't look happy. We trundled along the trail, mainly in silence. I let out the occasional gasp/grunt/curse. This became more and more frequent, until it dawned on me I'd turned into the Negative Runner.

Approaching the finish with a frown

We mused over this at the end as we walked back to the car: every race pair has a positive and a negative. When one runner is struggling and doubting every step of the way, the other becomes the positive. The light at the end of tunnel, encouraging you to just keep going. This is what Kate did for me at Cottrell Park. When I wanted to stop, Kate kept me going. 

Reaching the finish, I was a new kind of exhausted. I was angry-exhausted. But as I crossed the finish my frown slowly turned to relief, then to a smile. I'll be back to run Cottrell Park again.


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