The English National Cross Country Championships rotates between the three regions on an annual basis i.e. Southern, Northern and Midlands. In Winter 2008/9 it was held in the Southern region where it is normally held in London at Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath. Entered in the men’s championships for VRUK were myself and Dave Arnold otherwise we had members representing other clubs, Colin Braybrook (St Albans) and James Meldrum (Liverpool Harriers).
The Start / Finish area is close to the north London Overground railway line with Gospel Oak station a short distance away. I decided to use this route on this occasion and noticed passengers who just happened to be passing through the area were attracted by the event with thousands of runners and supporters in close proximity. Other runners including myself were leaving the train and at the time a race, the junior men’s I presume was about to start. Unfortunately there was a late runner who should have been on the start line but was still at the station, making it known to other passengers as he stood in his vest ready to run. He tried to take a shortcut over a fence rather than the official exit but I noticed later that he had to join the rest of us which delayed him even further.
As expected there was the club’s tented village near the top and to the right of Parliament Hill. It was very mild, a week after the severe winter spell had ended with the temperature around 14 degrees. Although it had been dry for some days, the course as expected would be muddy if not a swamp in places. Witnessed the build-up to the women’s championship run over a traditional distance of 8K with the men’s race over 12K. As usual the race start is very wide with posts erected to mark out the pens i.e. 1-10, 11-19, etc up to 300. We were also meant to enter the start area via a marquee although some arriving late jumped over the plastic mesh barrier.
Members of VRUK (me) were required to line up in the very last pen 291-300. With the runners spread out over a wide start, they were no more than 15 deep at any point. Given that it was a championship event, it was a fast start but one guy nearby soon tripped over the bumpy ground which would get a lot more difficult soon. The approach to the summit of Parliament Hill is very long, tiring and the gradient increases nearer the top. On this occasion it was also very muddy due to runners crossing from the tented club village. The first 1 to 1.5K of each of the two laps proved to be the hardest. Descending over Parliament Hill and arcing from right to left, the ground was treacherous if not a swamp, slowing the runners down to almost a walk. At the bottom we began to climb again but still in the treacherous conditions. The climb was not particularly long but combined with the conditions left me very tired but fortunately we descended again, more in a straight line to the next swamp and a shallow ditch. One runner appeared to have lost some personal possession as he search the mud with his hands.
After the ditch there was another long climb which was very muddy again which eventually eased. Finally the last tricky stretch with a diagonal ditch followed by a short sharp climb. The remainder of the lap was fairly standard XC apart from some muddy patches. The loop ends near the top of Parliament Hill from where start lap 2. Second time round, the difficult kilometre or so felt even harder otherwise given that the Southern regional event held in January was over 15K in more testing conditions, the last few kilometres here felt rather comfortable. As normal, the long downhill and flat straight to the finish line made it feel easier.
I was not sure if I still had my chip around my ankle as the flap came loose at the start but to my relief the remainder of the chip stayed tight. The recovery was fairly quick and the weather conditions made it feel spring like.
A long wait in the lido for the showers was uncomfortable standing on stone cold floor but luckily on this occasion for the first time that I recall here, the showers remained warm due I suspect to the women using facilities in the Harringay Athletic Stadium.
The championships move to Northern England in 2010.