My return to cross country racing was as it should be! Two weeks after running Frankfurt in almost perfect road running conditions I find myself out in the middle of nowhere in rural England lining up for a less than arbitrary 8.6km race.
The clouds gathered, the wind picked up and the rain began to ominously fall during my warm-up. I was quite nervous as I laced up my new spikes – the first time I’ve ran with spikes for a long, long time and I was thankful I had my headphones plugged in with the Gayatri Mantra to calm my mind and nerves. We gathered together as a team for a pre-start photograph and few words from the head honcho and then headed to the line together. Yesterday I didn’t want to race at all, this morning I felt the same but the moment I arrived on course at Keysoe in Bedford I felt ready to race and, aside from standard nerves, I was excited and hoping to finish as a scorer for Harrow AC (the first ten across the line are scorers in the Chiltern League).
The course at Keysoe is a three lap set up and there seemed to be a fair bit of downhill along the way which was a welcome surprise – when I think cross country I think of mud, cold, rain, blood, hills and sweat but today served up only sweat, mud, cold and rain! The first lap passed quickly enough and, on reflection, I definitely went off too hard and paid for it later on – I clocked my first klick in 3:35 which I blame on a number of things: running in a team pack at the start, feeling the need to prove something to myself about my ability to handle the conditions, the downhill and a fear of being stranded in the middle of two packs early on. Anyway, I ran hard for the first lap. Too hard. At some point during the second lap, around the 6km mark, I began to get a stitch in my right side ribcage and it persisted from there right until the end! Shortly after this the rain began to fall in a torrent, turned to hail and a headwind picked up and because I never look back during a race I had no idea that there were three guys attached to my heels using me as a wind and hail break – I found this out as they came up on my left shoulder and passed me after the water trap. This broke me a little and I slipped into a slower gear until towards the end of the final lap when I noticed I was being overtaken by a few guys running as a team which really galvanised me to lift my heels, my head and pace because I hate being overtaken towards the end of races (or at all for that matter).
So, to sum it up: it was a great reintroduction to club running and cross country racing and I’m pretty pleased with running 34:48 for the 8.6km course and averaging 4:03 per klick in terrible conditions after being away from cross country for so long and after running a marathon only two weeks ago! I was just behind the last scorer/10th man for Harrow AC and finished as 11th man for the club, I finished 115th from 218 starters (hoping to improve on this as time goes on!) and Harrow AC finished 3rd as a team which puts us 6th in the League after two races.
My next race is the North London Cross Country Championships at Alexandra Palace next weekend on November 15th. I hope to perform well on the 10km course – I’m not expecting a PR but I’d like to give a decent account on the day taking weather and course conditions into account.
It’s good to be back running as part of a Team and I’m excited to see what we can achieve by the end of the season!