English Cross Country Champs, Alton Towers

English Cross Country Champs, Alton Towers

Most years since his debut in 1997, the editor has entered these champs, entry is open to all registered runners and the venue alternates between the three English regions. This year it was held in the Midlands on adjoining land to Alton Towers Theme Park in Staffordshire. Traveling by bus from Stoke-on-Trent there was some snow in the countryside but no sign of snow on arrival. On entering the cross country venue soon after the start of the meeting ( 10 events from 11am – 4.30pm), the communal area was already a sea of mud and I had not brought my boots. Venturing onto the course, conditions for spectators were not quite as bad if you avoided particular areas. With the course snaking in all directions there were plenty of options for spectators including the main hill connecting the two levels. The course was soon churned up with a mixture of deep mud and flooded stretches with little or no grass to be seen. Runners were getting completely splattered by muddy water from competitors including their faces. Given the conditions in the communal area it was better to remain on the course as a spectator for most of the time until my event scheduled for 3pm.

Soon after my arrival the first ambulance arrived to pick up an injured runner but the driver made the mistake of driving onto the course and quickly getting stuck and needed the assistance of a tractor to tow it back onto the road with I assume the injured runner. More ambulances seemed to arrive on a regular basis so the conditions were taking their toll. At about 1pm, the organisers decided to review the course for the U-15 girls event for safety reasons and removed the main hill climb. The review added a delay of 15 minutes to the remainder of the meeting.

Recovering from a cold I was not going to give my best and was a little concerned if I would suffer for taking the risk. Standing up for the previous 4 hours was not idea preparation. With the usual wide start divided up into pens with each club allocated a pen number, it makes the start easier. Underway (we were notified that our course had been reduced to 10K from 12K and only two instead of three large laps) the first 100 metres or so was the easiest thereafter it was a matter of keeping your knees high for most of the course. The mud was soon trying to pull off my shoes and it soon happened early on. No time to attempt to untie the shoes I just pulled the right shoe back on and hoped for the best. I had to ensure that I ran more on my toes to keep the risk low of it happening again. I also caused a temporary strain to my right shoulder. The toughest stretch I thought was a shortish climb but through deep mud shortly before we descended down to the lower level, followed by the main climb which I thought was not too difficult as grip here was easier.

After the early loss of places due to shoe coming off, I did retrieve some places, notably on the main hill but like most runners was becoming progressively tired and looking forward to the finish and thankful for the shortened course. We were wearing chips whose times were only recorded at the finish. Had trouble getting mine off as it was covered in a thick layer of mud. Slowly made my way back to the marquee for runners whose club did not organise their own club tent. Next problem, how to get changed without getting more mud on my non-running clothing. Managed to remove some mud from legs with tissues otherwise let the mud dry. My normal shoes were in quite a bad state and that was how they would remain as I traveled home by public transport for the next 3-4 hours. Luckily I had avoided splashes of mud on my face.

Checking the times on-line the next day, I finished 1,017th out of 1,302 in 0.57.21, probably my slowest of all 10Ks! In terms of position I was place about 2% higher (78.11%) than in 2010 in better conditions at Roundhay Park, Leeds. For details of the English Cross Country Association and the results visit

http://www.englishcrosscountry.co.uk/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1

Peter Simpson

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