Tag Archives: xc

Fourth cross-country fixture: maracas & mud 

On Saturday the 11th of February I took part in the fourth and final Surrey XC League fixture of the season with the Advent Running team. Before heading to Lloyd Park to run our 8k race some of us joined the girls at Happy Valley Park to encourage them around what was a tough course, not helped by the snow. Lorna and I met up with most of the girls at London Bridge to get the train to Coulsdon South or as Ben Rajan aptly named it Coldsdon South. We arrived in plenty of time which was good as we still had a bit of a trek to get to the start area and then to the nearest car park/toilets. As I normally run in the same races as Lorna it’s not very often I get to support her, however when I have cheered it’s been great fun. It was nice for some of us to be able to repay the favour as lots of the girls cheered us on at Clapham Common, Epsom Downs and Cranford Park.

I always find cross-country days funny; the first few hours seem to drag on but once you’ve started travelling to the race and met up with the group/team time disappears. The girls sorted their race vests & numbers before doing a quick warm up. With just a couple of minutes to go they shed their warm layers and headed for the start line.

Before we knew it they were charging off at what I would describe as “It’s so bloody cold, let’s get this done” pace. Normally when I’m watching races/supporting I feel left out and want to be taking part, not this time. I was more than happy to be in warm clothes, shouting useless words of support and shaking some maracas.

Photo courtesy of Abi Williams @afloralcrown

We positioned ourselves near a slippery chicane in a bid to get good photos and give the girls a lift before they zoomed down the hill into the second lap.

The girls ran really well in what were horrible conditions, I don’t think they could believe their luck with the bad weather. After their third fixture they all said the conditions were “brutal” and “really muddy and hilly” but apparently this course was a lot tougher due to the long hills and ploughed fields.

As the men’s race started at 2pm we had to depart after cheering the girls around one lap. We opted to jog to the train station to loosen our legs up. With the large snowflakes falling on our faces it felt like we were on some sort of arctic expedition, far from it really. We jumped on the tram from East Croydon to Lloyd Park before sorting our race numbers and vests, using a couple of cars for a bag drop (thanks Matt and Sarah). Claudia and some of the other girls arrived before the start so they showed us where the hilliest and muddiest parts of the course were. It’s always good to do a bit of a recce so you can roughly work out how to pace yourself. With 5 minutes until the start I stripped down to race vest and split shorts and did a few strides to try and keep warm. Luckily the weather was much clearer in Lloyd Park than in “Happy” Valley Park, there was no snow to be seen. As we walked to the start line I was really excited to get going but at the same time I was a little sad as it was the last fixture of the season. Similarly to the third fixture I positioned myself near the front alongside Martin Harris with the rest of the AR team just behind us. After a short announcement from the organisers we were on our way.

The first kilometre was relatively flat resulting in a split of 3:33. Over the four fixtures I’ve found it interesting learning how to pace the races, trying to take the mud and hills into consideration. The pace felt fast for the first couple of kilometres but I was feeling good and I’d decided I would get the first lap done then either ease off if need be or push on. Unfortunately after about a kilometre and a half one of my shoe laces came undone, rookie. I mustn’t have tied it tight enough due to having freezing cold hands. I was in two minds whether to stop and attempt to tie it back up or chance it and hope my shoe wouldn’t come off in the mud. I opted for the latter having weighed up the pros and cons, I figured I’d probably struggle to tie it up again giving my hands felt like icicles and the laces were covered in mud. It would’ve been like taking on a challenge in the cube. Luckily the next few kilometres went by quickly a) because I was thinking about my laces and b) I was chasing Martin down.

Photos courtesy of Claudi @claudi8s & Lorna @lorns_runs

The first lap went by pretty quickly; it definitely helped having the AR lot making a racket (I mean playing their musical instruments to an incredible standard) and cheering the team on. I closed the gap on Martin as we entered the second lap; we were side by side for a kilometre or so. Then came the short sharp muddy climb that we had recced, I think we both knew if one of us could push on after the climb that would be it as the rest of the course was relatively flat.

We both dug deep to get to the top of the hill, my legs were surprisingly feeling ok so I got back onto a quick pace to open up a gap and push on. There was no looking back; I started to think about catching two of the other runners to put myself in with the chance of finishing top of the individual standings in the league. They were a couple of hundred metres ahead of me so they were a good target to chase for the remainder of the race. For a kilometre or so I maintained the gap knowing that within the last 1,000m or so there was a downhill stretch into the finish. Having some energy left in the tank I started upping my pace, I opened up my stride.

After getting through muddy sections and up sharp hills it was great to be on the home straight and to let fly. I closed the gap on the two runners but unfortunately couldn’t quite catch them.

I crossed the finish line in 5th place (2nd in Division 4) in 29:41.


Martin finished in 7th (3rd in Division 4) claiming the top spot in the individual standings. If you’re reading this well done mate you were so strong and super consistent throughout the season, it’s been great fun racing with you. The whole team smashed it again!

Division 4 champions!

Team results


Our 10 scorers

2nd: me

3rd: Martin Harris

5th: Mark Parry

7th: James Poole

11th: Ben Rajan

14th: Adam Lennox

15th James Brewster

22nd: Rory Campbell

30th: Matt Hanson

32nd: Robin Davies

Here’s how the girls got on:

Team results


Our 10 scorers

12th: Claudia Schroegel (ADV A)

19th: Svenja Espenhahn (ADV A)

21st: Melanie McKay (ADV A)

23rd: Alice Milne (ADV A)

28th: Lorna Elliott (ADV A)

36th: Sarah McCarthy (ADV B)

62nd: Julia Mitchelmore (ADV B)

71st: Emma Finch (ADV B)

78th: Nikki Rees (ADV B)

80th: Claire Weustenraed (ADV B)

I’ve really enjoyed the cross-country races with the Advent Running team; I can’t wait for next season. A massive thank you has to go to James and Claudia for organising everything. It has been great to see everyone enjoying themselves racing around on the mud.

See a lot of you soon

Steve

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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