English National XC, Leeds 27/2/10

The national cross country championships were held this year at Roundhay Park, a venue I visited back in 1998 when the conditions were entirely different i.e. warm and dry with no mud underfoot. At that time it did not seem like a cross country, more like a multi-terrain event. This year there had been a lot of rain and snow leading up to the event so the course could be described in places as waterlogged and the surface was increasingly churned up as each race passed. Still not as tough as the South of England event back in January.

Arrived in time to see the first of the junior races at 11am and watched the runners almost free fall down a very steep hill that one would associate with a fell race. Most of the clubs with a large presence also set-up a tent, meeting point or gazebo. With ten races schedule, there was plenty of entertainment around you own event. In my case, the men’s event was the last at 3pm so had plenty of time to explore the taped course. Walked around it early and noted the various climbs especially in the 2nd half of each of the 3 laps.

Despite having all day to get ready for my event, I watched the start of the women’s event 45 minutes before the men’s and noted the bottle-neck at the entrance to the Start where competitors had to walk through a funnel in a marquee to reach the start. Some runners were still trying get through the funnel when the women’s race started.

As I was getting changed for my race, I was not expecting a shoe lace to break so had to make an emergency adjustment which hopefully would not lead to the shoe coming off in the heaviest of the conditions. Also realised that I had not brought any pins but luckily there were still some available at registration. A last visit to the toilet meant I did not allow sufficient time for a proper warm-up and only had a few minutes to go by the time I reached the start line via the congested funnel that over 1000 runners had to pass through.

Given that the temperature was around 5 degrees celcius, as a precaution I wore the running top. I started at a sensible pace which meant I was near the rear early on but we soon spread out and by the 2nd half of the 1st lap I noted a significant number of runners well behind me as we climbed. As expected it was tough with a lot of snake-like climbing across the gradient. The final hill although the steepest was straight up so easier to negotiate. We then had most of the heaviest conditions to negotiate on the flatter section of the course.

On the 2nd lap and climbing again we were warned that the leaders were coming through with not more than 1K to go whereas I had another lap to go. We were told to keep to the right but as we approached the last hill we had to switch to the left. As I was about to switch, two of the fast runners crossed my path to the right side. Lost count of how many passed me and shortly after reaching the top of the last hill, the leaders took a different course which turned out to be some of the heaviest mud.

Seemed to hold my position in the 3rd lap but trying to build-up to a fast finish was difficult given the conditions. My academic time of 59.01 was only 14 seconds slower than in 2009 when it was held on Hampstead Heath, London but in terms of position, I was 68 places further back. Did not manage to meet-up with Clare Coombes who was running for Mansfield Harriers for whom she was first runner home. Clare had in fact missed a lot of training leading up to the event but still did reasonably well over their 8K course.

Peter Simpson