My last cross country race had been the national championships in Sunderland in 2013. I ran well in freezing conditions, on a course that featured snow and ankle high mud the whole way round.
A foot injury that stopped me running off road for almost a year wrote off last season’s races, so it was great to be back for the opening match of the Surrey Cross Country League, Division 2, held at Newlands Corner near Guildford.
Thankfully, conditions could not have been more different from Sunderland. In the midst of an Indian Summer, the course was dry and the temperature mild. Poorly, a work issue meant I arrived at the team meeting point a mere 15minutes before the starting gun was fired, despite it being a home fixture. As a result, my warm up was a ridiculous 4.30 minutes per mile pace on a downhill opening section. Needless to say that is too quick for someone like me, and I was in serious danger of blowing up before the quarter mile mark.
Focusing on hanging on from such an early stage of the race was far from ideal, but it ensured there was no doubt about my race strategy; get out hard, and keep going. I found myself running reasonably high up the field for the first lap of the two lap course. However, I suffered on a vicious hill that had most runners resorting to a desperate walk/shuffle for a prolonged section of the route. Definitely more hill work required.
I kept going, and despite losing places wasn’t falling apart in the way I assumed I would. Newlands Corner is a good old-fashioned tough and hilly cross country course, and it hurt. But cross country is a sport in which it feels great to hurt. It’s fast, it’s brutal, and I love it.
Competing for a team is an unusual feeling for runners so used to competing for themselves. As fellow Guildford & Godalming AC runners went past me, I tried to hang onto them for as long as possible. And it worked. Yes, I was losing places, but I wasn’t haemorrhaging them.
Throughout, I was entirely focused on scoring for the team. Aware that other, much quicker, runners would be back at the next race, I knew this was my chance to play a role in whatever we are to achieve this season.
And at the end I did that, finishing as the 7th team member out of 8 to score. I was 57th overall, ahead of around half the field. I was happy with that.
Yes, I can improve on my position with more speed and hill work, but the race represented a good start to my cross country season after so long off. More importantly, the team got off to a flyer, finishing in second place and setting up a real change of back to back promotions in the Surrey Cross Country League. Muddy marvellous.