A brief definition of terms:
Mud - Dirt or grass that has been soaked with water and repeatedly trodden upon.Crud - Saturated mud that pools water, at least ankle deep.
Goop - Thick, sticky mud the texture of wet cement and 6 inches in depth.
Ngugi - (pronounced Goo Gee) A running machine that glides over mud, crud and goop.
***** STAVANGER, Norway - The sky was clear but the course for Sunday's World Cross Country Championships had deteriorated to a muddy hog heaven from the week-long rain and the procession of runners. The only semi-dry footing was in the first quarter mile that passed in front of a stand holding the prince of Norway and several thousand of his subjects.
Pat Porter and I shared the front position in our starting gate. Flanked by Great Britain and Poland and some 40 other teams, we needed a fast start to give our seven other teammates a chance to run. I was out of the gate with the first puff from the gun and when I peeked to my right 300 yards later I saw I was dead even with a merging throng of mud-speckled runners.
The start of a World Cross event is like riding a horse in the middle of a buffalo stampede. It's a thrill if you keep up but one slip and you're nothing but hoof prints.
As we started up the first hill, the torn up course turned from mud to crud. Runners searched in vain for dry footing next to the fences. A brief downhill gave us a welcome rest before we slogged our way up the half mile slope on the backside of the course. Near the apex, a hundred yards of goop would have yanked the shoes from our feet were it not for the double knots and athletic tape wound around our shoes and ankles. Forward momentum slowed and legs buckled at the top. Mud and grass divots flew from our feet, covering everything. Race numbers were nothing more than muddy squares pinned to muddy shirts worn on muddy bodies.
Another downhill reprieve and we passed by the start. Could I really be this tired and still have four laps to go?
After the first lap people had pretty much established position. Everyone, that is, but a diminuitive Kenyan named John Ngugi. He rolled by as if unaware of the conditions of the course. While I plodded through the mud, Ngugi skimmed along its surface. Ngugi went on to win his fourth straight World Cross title by nearly 30 seconds over Great Britain's Tim Hutchings. Ngugi's time of 39:42 for 12K was the slowest winning time since 1972 and a testimonial to the tough conditions. With 44 points Kenya secured first followed by Great Britain's 147 and Ethiopia's 162.
The U.S. team floundered to ninth place as seven of nine runners suffered stomach cramps. I barely outleaned my roomate, Porter, for 30th place and the first American overall.
As I picked the mud from my teeth and ears later that evening, I was neither pleased nor saddened by my performance.
In "The Charge of the Light Brigade," Kipling wrote of 600 brave souls who rode into the valley of death. In "World Cross Country `89," 600 brave souls ran through the valley of mud, crud and goop. In the men's race, Ngugi led the charge, and I, at least, survived the battle.