Normally when the event is held in London it is located at Hampstead Heath (North London) but with the English National XC scheduled here on 21 February, the Hillingdon venue was selected. It was an interesting choice for me or going back down memory lane! I attended Brunel University back in the early 1980s and traveling to Uxbridge (end of the Metropolitan Line)was a regular route into/out of London.
After a 10-15 mins walk I arrived at the venue, the new facilities of Hillingdon Athletic Track. Other junior events were in progress obviously not on the track but around other sports fields and countryside adjacent to the facilities. Given the new facilities there were strict rules to remove your muddy shoes if you have been on the course. Fortunately having just arrived I was ok otherwise there were mud covered shoes of the same colour around the entrance.
With my event not too far ahead I decided to first go and view the women’s race in progress and get my shoes muddy. Some clubs had put up their tents in the muddy conditions! Watching the women’s race briefly it was obvious the heavy conditions were slowing the runners down as you come to expect with cross country.
Given the quality facilities there were also ideal lockers for a change rather than risking dumping personal belongings near the start on in bushes and hoping for the best! Given the temporary plastic course fencing, a longish detour was necessary to reach the start. I was not quite sure what to expect (apart from mud) although there was not much in the way of hills I thought! I could see the swampy area at the first corner but was not sure if that was the only time we passed through it.
Met up with Sid Delara at the start line, Sid was running for his local club (making up the numbers) and none too keen to be running the 15K. It was announced that we would be running 4 laps. Off we went and soon our legs were wetted as we went through the 10-strides or so swamp. It was immediately evident that it was going to be a gruelling run. The mud was ankle-deep for long stretches and difficult to steer a straight line with runners trying to take advantage of less disturbed surface by taking detours but it was still soft almost wherever you ran. As it got easier we then had the hardest long climb on the course and ran around the edge of a rugby field at the top which was a relief. Back downhill it was back to the tricky conditions and as we approached the end of the lap it was again very heavy. Starting the second lap we were greeted again by the swamp. Another 3 laps was rather demoralising but you just got on with the task and made sure you did not take a tumble by making an extra effort to lift your knees higher.
Soon into the 3rd lap we were being lapped by the leaders and I estimate by the end of the 3rd lap about 70 had passed and I noticed two at least had been lapped twice as I passed them. It was somewhat a relief to be running the final lap and with the home straight only being covered at the end, I was able to put is a final spurt and overtaking several competitors.
Trying to get my shoes off at the facilities meant hands getting plastered and will I find my shoes again when I return. Given the large amount of mud to remove from the legs, there was a long queue for the showers but luckily I got there early. Met Sid back at the cafeteria upstairs and we chatted for a long time until it was time to almost lock up at 6pm and had long since got dark. My shoes were almost the last to be reclaimed.
Enjoyed the day and the testing conditions. Role on the National XC at Hampstead Heath on 21 Feb.