BACK when I was a nerdy kid at senior school, there were two words guaranteed to send a shiver down my spine – cross country.
The PE teacher at our school was clearly a sadist. There’s an old saying that goes: “Those who can do. Those who can’t teach. And those who can’t teach, teach PE.”
And in our case the PE teacher’s obvious glee at not actually teaching was matched only by his unbridled delight at watching us suffer.
Cross country was a particularly savage excuse for an educationally-enhancing experience. It involved battling through a mentally and physically draining five-mile course usually resembling a ploughed field after a hosepipe had been turned on to it for about a week.
And we only ever seemed to do it when it was freezing cold or pouring with rain. My memory may be playing tricks on me after all these years, but I swear we were stuck in the sports hall playing volleyball any time the sun was out.
The smart, streetwise kids always seized the opportunity to sit on the riverbank smoking before taking a short cut back to school whenever we did cross country but I was never that smart or streetwise. And I didn’t smoke.
Neither could I fake my mum’s signature well enough to produce a letter claiming I had a verruca or some other ailment that might have confined me to the warmth and relative comfort of a classroom instead.
So for me cross country was something to be endured with gritted teeth. That it would be over eventually and that life would slowly return to normal was my spur.
That’s why it’s during the winter months and the break between speedway seasons that I often think back to those sanity-testing cross country runs.
And not just because of the weather. The close season, too, is an ordeal to be endured – a period when life is suspended in a temporary state of purgatory.
But, just as the sight of the school buildings as the end of the cross country course neared would lift my spirits, so I’m similarly buoyed by the day I tear off February from my calendar and welcome in March.
For March, as we all know, is the month when the speedway starts. The long, painful wait is nearly over.
For us here on Teesside it’s a season we can look forward to with relish too. The consortium have invested wisely, the team looks strong and exciting and, well, it can’t be as bad as last year anyway, can it?
Once again I’ll be following the Bears home and away and you’ll be able to read all the latest news, views and reports in the Evening Gazette and on http://www.gazettelive.co.uk – and, of course, I’ll be offering a sideways slant on the Bears’ season right here on In the Pits.