South of England Cross Country, 29/01/11

Report from Peter Simpson:

The day dawned cold but dry for this annual event at Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath in North London. Despite the dry conditions for the best part of two weeks, it was still likely to be very muddy for particular stretches. Given the seven events prior to the men’s 15K, conditions were only likely to get worse. On arrival at 1230pm the normal changing area appeared to be under reconstruction but luckily the showers and part of changing was still available otherwise most of the runners get changed out in the open or in club tents. Championship cross country is a bit of a security risk for personal belongings if no support around.

After a visit to the busy park cafe, took a walk round part of the course, avoiding the mud where possible and saw the current junior men’s race. It was not long before the start of the women’s race when I need to consider getting back to the changing area and get ready. Saw the women start and head straight to the top of Parliament Hill, the longest climb on the course. No sooner was I ready and had deposited my belongings beside the track it was time to head for the start alongwith the masses. It was at this point the problem began when we all had to walk through a narrow entrance to a marquee and snake through to the exit and onto the start area. It was such a slow process for the 800+ runners that time ran out but the officials stuck to their programme of a 2.50pm start even though there was no event to follow. There were a lot of runners still trying to get through when the race started. There were groans / angry comments, some runners had to climb over the adjoining security fence to get started. It was a right foul-up / disappointment for a significant number of men who started late and had to make up ground.

The problems deflected attention for me from the tough climb up Parliament Hill and soon I was there, caught on the way by some of the late starters but faster runners. Another 17 or so hills were to come plus the treacherous stretches of mud that sapped the energy from the legs. Soon after the 1st climb we had in my opinion the worst stretch which led us up the next hill. Late starters continued to zip past for some time. The drier conditions helped in places with the fastest part of the course, the last kilometre or so of each lap seemed easy by comparison and a relief of course. Getting up the toughest of the two hills a 2nd & 3rd time required every bit of strength, the odd runner taking the easier option of walking.

Well before the end of the 2nd lap, a lot of runners were lapped including myself as anticipated and by the time we split away from the elite runners, maybe 20 or so had passed. Starting our 3rd lap, the marshals were already starting to dismantle the course, removing tape. Although tired I had paced it quite well with energy to tackle the last of the hills. Running the long 1-2K to the finish was fairly easy with the downhill off Parliament Hill and dog-leg to finish by the track.

The events were also chip timed but not at the start as it was a championship event with a very wide start as normal to give all clubs a chance to have their fastest runner right on the start line. Despite my advantage at the start positionwise I did not appear to benefit, finishing 739 / 885, in a time of 1.16.53 about 3-4 minutes faster than in Jan10’s event.