First Cross-country fixture: Not much mud

On Saturday the 15th of October I took part in my first cross-country race. A couple of months ago James & Claudia (Advent Running/AR Collective) announced they would be putting men’s and women’s teams into the Surrey League. I was interested straight away as it made me think back to when I ran a couple of cross-country races at school. I just remember it being freezing cold, tipping it down and struggling to stay on my feet due to ALL the mud. It was so much fun! If you’ve read my blog before you probably know how much I enjoy racing, I couldn’t wait for the first xc fixture to come around.

Being the “new kids on the block” we have joined the Surrey Cross Country League in Division 4. Going into the first race I was a little apprehensive, as I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was wondering how quick our competition would be and how tough the course would be. Things not worth thinking about really as I couldn’t control them. I was also apprehensive because I didn’t know how my legs would feel being just two weeks after Cologne Marathon and six days after the Royal Parks Half Marathon. Wanting to do well I decided to rest a lot in the week, the only real hard session I did was at Track on Tuesday night. The rest of the week I kept my legs ticking over by doing the Running Works Run Club on Wednesday and Thursday lunch times.

As the race started at 2pm I got a nice lie in and chilled for a couple of hours before heading to Wimbledon Common. Luckily as I now live near Oval it didn’t take long to get to the Common, once I arrived I met up with the lads. As James (Poole) was pacing Nic at Autumn 100 and Claudia was racing in Nonsuch Park, James Brewster & Tony To got us organised handing out our cool AR XC race vests and race numbers.

Once we’d all got our race kit on, including race spikes or trail shoes, we got in a couple kilometre jog to warm up. We ran the first few kilometres of the route; it was good to see how muddy and narrow/wide it was going to be.

Photo courtesy of Tony To

Once we got back to near the start line we were greeted by some of the girls, they had travelled over after their race to support and cheer us on. They let us know their race had gone well.

As the start time neared we positioned ourselves behind the line, knowing there were a couple of narrow sections we got pretty close to the front of the pack. It’s only when everyone makes their to the start that you realise how many runners are competing. For some reason I imagined that there would only be 50/60 runners racing, turns out there were hundreds. This was because we were racing with Divison 3. We were due to be given division numbers to have on our backs so we knew who we were racing but unfortunately none of the teams were given them. Before we knew it we were off. Thinking the route was 5.6 miles (as described on the surrey league website) I set off at what I thought was a maintainable pace, somewhere around 3:45min/km pace. The first few kilometres were spent trying to work my way past runners, in hindsight I should’ve positioned myself a little further up on the start.

I settled into my pace/rhythm and was feeling good; the course was pretty firm which helped. There wasn’t much mud at all. After 2km or so there was a section through a field where the grass was pretty long and soft and this meant more effort was required to maintain a good pace. The first 5/6 kilometres went by really quickly, mainly because the route was varied, there were a few ups and downs and I was focussing on the runner in front trying to chase them down. Knowing the route was two loops was a little surprised that I hadn’t passed through the start area until I got to around 6k. I was thinking, “this course is a hell of a lot longer than 8k, maybe we are doing 11k?” or “ok, the second loop isn’t the same as the first and will be 2/3k long”. I carried on running between 3:45 and 4min/km pace and just thought I’d have to hold on for as long as possible.

It was great to have a cheer crew, complete with cowbells, around the route. Having started pretty quickly the last few kilometres were always going to be about holding on. My legs were tiring quickly; they felt heavier and heavier having to lift them out of the long grass through the open field for the second time. I passed Spencer and Cassie (the dog) on this section and it definitely helped seeing a friendly face there. I really enjoyed the section after that as there is a slight downhill and you’re weaving your way through some trees. I soon got to 8k and knew that I was still a fair way from the finish line. I had to ease up a little as my legs were tightening up, especially on the one long hill. I got up the hill eventually, I felt as though I was crawling with concrete blocks tied to my feet. Once over the hill I knew there was only a kilometre or so to go on the flat.

I passed the Advent Running crew again and collected a power boosting high five from Claudi. I was working hard and couldn’t wait to see the finish funnel and clock. My watch had just ticked past 10k and then I was on the home straight. I would’ve like to have been capable of a sprint finish and to catch the runner a hundred metres or so in front of me but all I could muster was a slight increase of pace trying to avoid pulling a hamstring. I crossed the line in 38:56 but more importantly in 23rd position overall and 5th in Division 4, helping the team.

Once through the finish I spoke with Martin who had a great run, he was the first of the AR team to finish in 3rd place. We cheered our teammates in, and they were crossing the line thick and fast. Not knowing which runners were in Division 3 or 4 we had to wait until Saturday night for the results but we knew we’d done well as everyone was placing so highly. Post race we refuelled, Nikki had baked some delicious cakes for us, and Claudia had brought along some bananas etc.

On the Saturday evening my phone was going crazy with notifications from Facebook due to photos being uploaded. Then the results were posted and Claudia announced the girl’s claimed sixth place in the league, well done!! She then let us know that we are at the top of the men’s league by a considerable margin. Great work lads!

Overall it was a great day, I can’t wait for the next fixture in November and I’m hoping for more mud. To keep up to date with how the AR teams are doing follow @ar_collective @adventrunning on Instagram & Twitter.

Next up for me is Tough 10 in Epping Forest on Sunday, should be a fun event!

See a lot of you soon

Steve

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