Saturday, 28 February 2015

National Cross Country Champs

So much mud
A gun fired, signalling the start of the 2015 English National Cross-Country Championships. More than 2,000 male runners were unleashed, stampeding up one of the city's best known viewpoints.

“Oh my god, it’s like Ben Hur,” said one as the human cavalcade thundered towards them. “More like Braveheart,” said the other, when the forerunners of the brightly coloured pack crested the first hill, then disappeared sharply right into a quagmire-like descent.
Last Sunday I took part in the National Cross Country Championships for the first time. I've never thought it was worth travelling to the other end of the country for the event in previous years, but as it was being held in London this year I decided to give it a go.

The race was like no other cross country race I've ever taken part in. Just over two thousand of us lined up across the bottom of Parliament Hill in starting pens with the slope rising, dauntingly, in front of us.

It was obvious that to do well you'd need a god start off the line. I went out pretty hard, but within a couple of hundred meters I'd been quickly swamped as the course narrowed. Surprisingly there wasn't too much pushing and all of the runners were very respectful of each other. However, but the time we rounded the first bend I was probably already down to 600th place.

After two days of pretty solid rain and 7,000 runners trampling the course before us, the going was boggy to say the list. I'm not a very experienced cross country runner and it was difficult to know what lines to take. I generally tried to stick to the edges hoping to find some better ground even if it wasn't the shortest line.

Around 1km into the race it began to settle down. It was impossible to get into a rhythm with the terrain, but I started to get going and was slowly picking off a few people and working my way through the field a little bit. At the 3km mark I saw the leaders and was able to give a shout of encouragement to John from Kent who was sitting at the back of the leading pack.

I must have been running with a few other Richards as there were regular shouts of my name, but at the end of the first lap I got a special cheer from Becks, Barb and Bella who were standing on the side of the course watching.

While I might have been picking up places on the first lap the second lap was sadly a different story and the mud was sapping the energy out of my legs and the uphill sections were a particular struggle. Unfortunately I lost around 30 places on the second lap as people finishing more strongly than I was were able to pick their way past.

Thankfully the uphill sections of the course ended with about 2km to go. I got a bit of a second wind and I was able to pick up the pace. The Chewings women had moved up the course and it was good to get another a cheer as I went past.

The end of the course was a relatively steep downhill that was particularly boggy. I consciously eased back on the descent, deciding the upside would only be a few seconds, but the potential downside of a broken ankle wasn't worth the risk. A few people braver than I was over took me on the way down to the finish, but they were welcome to their places.

I've never been muddier on finishing a race. It took one shower and two baths to get clean.

I finished 570th out of 2,005 people who completed the course in 50min and 7secs

The data from my (new) watch is here.

One of the runners who finished 4mins ahead of me recorded their run:

The photo is courtesy of my aunt-in-law to be.

The quote is taken from The Daily Telegraph's review of the race.

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