When the bog monster had us on the run

REMINISCING about schooldays had me wondering just how many schools today include cross country in their sports curriculum.

I am sure neither of my sons did it at Deben High in Felixstowe – probably health and safety preventing teachers letting loose a bunch of youngsters around the country tracks and paths on the edge of the town, for fear of losing one of them in a ditch or under the wheels of a tractor.

It was a staple part of my games lessons every winter – though I don’t remember crossing much country.

In fact, I think it all took place in Ipswich’s Christchurch Park.

My one enduring memory of the races, which we ran come rain, shine or thick fog, was my trademark start – setting off like a rocket over the first 400 yards, much to the amusement of my fellow competitors, but purposely done so that I could later boast in the changing rooms: “I was leading at one stage.”

The other reason for heading so fast to the first clump of trees was that on bitterly cold days it gave me time to put on the gloves, and sometimes, vest, we used to hide in our pants, away from the eagle-eyed games masters.

Another memory is of friend Duncan Maile who, as we trudged through a boggy area before an energy-sapping flight of deep and steep steps, shouted, “Watch this!”, and as we all turned, allowed himself to fall face first into the bog.

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He emerged covered in thick black peaty mud, arms outstretched like the bog monster – and we ran off as fast as we could.

My enthusiasm, but not my lack of prowess, was noticed one year by the selectors and I was chosen for the house cross-country championship, running for Blue House (of which I was house captain one year).

It was a mistake they didn’t make again as I romped home 31st out of 32, a Herculean effort over the final 200 yards preventing me from being last.

As you can see, my sporting career at Tower Ramparts was not covered in glory.

It took me two years to gain a one-star Amateur Athletics Association award, scraping through with the minimum 20 points needed for the certificate after performing appallingly at discus, high jump, long jump, sprinting and javelin, and passably at middle distance running and triple jump.

Still, it was not the winning but the taking part that was important – or so they say.