The Southern XC Champs

On Saturday the 28th of January I took part in the Southern XC Championships. After watching the race in 2016 I decided I wanted to get involved, mainly because of the challenging course and standard of competition. In recent months I have been taking part in the Surrey XC League with Advent Running, it’s been a lot of fun and I’m glad I’d got a few cross-country races under my belt ahead of the 15k of mud on Parliament Hill. Having only recently started training more seriously for the Boston Marathon I knew I wouldn’t be in great shape to place highly but I wanted to race to gain some strength and enjoy the experience.

I had been looking forward to the race since signing up in December. In the week leading up to the race I was keeping a closer eye on the weather than normal, I was wondering whether the course would be super wet and muddy. On the morning of the race I got a bit of a lie in and relaxed, the few hours flew by and I was soon making the trip up to Parliament Hill.


With a few friends taking part in the women’s race I arrived at around 1:30pm that gave me time to pick up my race number and chat with the rest of Team Run-Fast. I also met up with the Advent Running group and had a quick catch up before watching the start of the women’s race. The men’s race started at 2:50pm so James Poole and I headed to the registration tent to sort our race numbers and put on our spikes. It was a shame we missed the majority of the women’s race but we did catch the sprint finish from the first four runners. Hannah Walker representing Run-Fast ran well and came third, it’s amazing how quick she is and how she can pull a result like that out the bag after not racing cross-country for a while.

James and I ran to the start line. It felt as though I had been looking forward to this race for ages and then all of a sudden it was upon us. I was really excited; it felt as though it was FA Cup final day (I used to get excited about that). I definitely prefer taking part in races with friends and having people around prior to the race to distract me from thinking about every eventuality. We positioned ourselves a couple of rows from the front knowing that there were some seriously quick club runners around us.


The gun went off and the herd of over 1,000 runners stampeded up the first big hill. There was so many people lining the course and the noise got louder as you made the climb. It is rather quiet at the beginning near the athletics track but soon the cowbells are ringing in your ears and you’re trying to listen out for familiar voices. With the first hill conquered at “start strong but pace yourself as you’ve got 15k to go pace” you take a sharp right before winding your way down through a particularly muddy section to then tackle a steady longish climb up through some trees. Due to the tough climb a lot of supporters and coaches positioned themselves there to encourage their runners. Some of the AR lot were there to cheer myself and James on and take photos.

Having not raced the southerns before I decided I was going to take it relatively steady over the first 5k and then up it if I could for the final 10k. I also figured that being three laps of 5k it would give me a chance to work out which lines were best to take and where you could push the pace and where you had to work hard up the hills. The fact that there was such a big field forced me to take it steady over the first lap; it was especially busy around the first few corners. I really enjoyed the first lap, my legs were feeling good and I was enjoying the variety of the course. 

Having raced a couple of club races I recognised quite a few faces. It was good to have some friendly competition, I knew if I could stick with them or go passed them I’d have a good race. Whilst on the first lap I was really focussing on where I was placing my feet, there were a few really muddy sections which were tricky to negotiate. Some runners would take a slightly wider route to go around the wet patches whereas other would fly straight through and trust their balance. I was still finding my feet and working out which was the best approach for each section of the course.

Despite focusing on foot placement I remember thinking “I can’t wait to see Lorna and the Advent Running guys!” They always make so much noise. The group had positioned themselves just before a downhill section to finish the 5k lap.

 Photo courtesy of Claudia (@claudi8s)

This part of the course was a lot of fun because of the support and the adrenaline from running fast downhill through the mud. It was the perfect position for supporters to be in because it acted as motivation to get round the lap quicker. As well as having the AR guys cheering there was a handful of Run-Fast runners/supporters on the first hill. It was great to have them at that point offering advice and cheering me on, they let me know I was “coasting” and that I should pump my arms and get up the hills quicker. I’m not sure I was coasting but maybe I was holding a little back for the final 5k or so.

As everyone had spread out I found the second lap a lot easier than the first. I had locked onto a good pace and could break the lap up into chunks mentally; I worked harder up the hills and let the legs do the work on the nice downhill sections. I was moving up through the field and started to pin point certain runners to catch. This is what cross-country is all about, there is no point wasting energy/time worrying about the pace or distance you need to knuckle down and race the course and try to finish as highly as possible. After completing the second 5k I was still feeling strong and ready to chase people down. I was making small gains on the climbs but slipped back on some of the downhills. One of the runners I was tracking down was Neil from VPH; we have finished close together on a few occasions. He is really strong in cross-country/fell races in particular and has run the Comrades Marathon on numerous occasions. I knew if I could finish near him or pass him I’d had a decent run. There was a bit of toing and froing as I went passed him on a couple of the hills and he flew passed me on one of the downhill boggy sections. With 2k or so to go I started to increase my pace and then passed Neil with about 1k left, knowing the final section was downhill and then on the flat to the finish I opened up my stride and sprinted to the line overtaking a couple of other runners in the process.


I managed to finish in 58:20 in 235th place, which I am happy with. Hopefully over the next few years I can take part in more cross-country races and improve, I think some specific hill training and more trail running is required. After crossing the finish line I caught up with Lorna and the AR crew and put on some warm clothes.

 

Thank you so much for the support everyone, you made my race really enjoyable. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be back running on the road the majority of the time in training for Boston; however I do have the last Surrey XC League fixture on the 11th which I’m really looking forward to.

I hope those of you that ran the Southerns enjoyed it as much as I did and I hope everyone’s training is going well for the busy race season ahead.

See a lot of you soon 

Steve

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Third Cross-country fixture: flat as a pancake

On Saturday the 14th of January I took part in the third Surrey Cross-country league fixture. It was held at Cranford Park, not too far from Heathrow. As the race start time was 2:30pm I had the morning to relax and I travelled with Lorna to Blackfriars to meet the girls before they headed to Lloyds Park for their race starting at 12 o’clock. I killed some time by grabbing food and reading some of Like the Wind mag issue 11.

I travelled to Paddington to meet a fair few of the lads, this included Dean and Alan, they were taking part in their first cross-country fixture with the AR team. It just so happened they’d done the Run Through Victoria Park 10k & Half Marathon respectively, so they were well warmed up. Initially when I found out the race was at Cranford Park I thought it would be a mission to get to, but it turned out to be a 15 minute train journey to Hayes & Harlington followed by a mile walk. The walk took us over part of the route; it was good to see what the terrain was like.

I always get excited about cross-country races. I look forward to seeing what the course will be like, will there be really muddy/boggy sections, and large hills etc to contend with. Simon Hazel had done some research for the team; he ran the route a couple of days prior to the race so we knew the route was flat as a pancake. We all sorted our race vests and numbers and then jogged part of the route to loosen our legs. I was feeling in good shape, I had completed a good track session on Tuesday, a quick ten mile tempo on Thursday evening and a good shakeout run commute on Friday morning in the lead up to the race. After the warm up we de-layered and made our way to the start line for the pre-race briefing.

With the knowledge of the course being flat and having finished highly in the previous two fixtures Martin Harris and I positioned ourselves on the start line with the rest of the team just behind us. Despite knowing there was a section that was firm and included stones through some trees I opted to test out my new Brooks Mach spikes as I am planning to wear them for the Southern Cross-country champs at Parliament Hill on the 28th of January.

Luckily the majority of the course was soft so I could test them properly. The route ran around the outside of Cranford Park, there were a couple of long straights before the winding section through the trees near the end of each lap. The 8k course was over three and a bit laps.

We were sent on our way; I started off at around 3:30min/km pace following Martin and Paul Piper (a friend, running for West 4 Harriers in Division 3). Immediately I was finding that my spikes were giving me good traction especially compared to other runners in trail shoes along one of the long straights which was boggy and included a large puddle. It was funny seeing each runner negotiate the puddle; some would skirt around it but most went straight through. Having seen other runners go through it and not sink I ploughed straight through. With soaking feet I pushed on along the west side of the park before heading into the trees. At this point I was still following Martin and Paul, this was the only section where I regretted having spikes on. Every now and then I would land on a stone and could feel a spike pushing up into my foot, not ideal but bearable for about 1km. Once out of the trees I knew I could pick up the pace on the grass along the straights and so passed Martin and Paul heading into the second lap.

Once I’d run one lap I knew which sections to push on and where I’d have to take it steady. I went through the puddle for the second time with no issues and held a good pace through the trees, trying to surge around the corners so if anyone was behind me I would be further away when they turned the corner. It’s all about the racing tactics ha. I finished my second lap and got cheers from Tony To (unfortunately had to drop out due to cramp) and Emily (Deans girlfriend). I was feeling really good at this point and knew I could maintain my pace for another 2.5k or so, I was really enjoying the run. With some energy left in the tank I picked up the pace on the home straight, I managed to finish 2nd in Division 4 in 27:45.

Shortly after I crossed the line Paul and Martin came through the line, they both ran good times and scored well.

I caught up with Tony and Emily; we cheered the rest of the lads through the finish and watched some great sprint finishes. We were keeping an eye on how many of our runners crossed the line as opposed to Woking (our nearest rivals in the league). There were a lot more black and green vests finishing before orange and green so we knew we’d extended our lead at the top of the league. Job done.

Here’s the team results:

Our top 10 scorers

2nd: me

3rd: Martin Harris

5th: Mark Parry

8th: Ben Rajan

12th: Adam Lennox

15th: Nic Wuthrich

25th Alan Gardiner

28th Simon Phillips

31st: Matt Hanson

33rd: Rory Campbell

A massive well done to the girls team over at Lloyds Park in the snow. They smashed it! Lorna had a great run and really enjoyed it, she finished as the second AR runner behind Claudi.



Note: Emma Wallace = Lorna
It was a great day for Team AR XC on the whole! I can’t wait for the final fixture now.

See a lot of you soon

Steve