Yesterday morning was the first cross-country race of the Three Counties Cross Country (3CXC) season, of which our club are members.
The first race of the season is always held by our club, Wellingborough & District AC and falls the first Sunday of the October half term holidays. Until this year I’d never had a chance to run it.
In 2011 I was ill, 2012 I helped to marshal, and in 2013 and 2014 it has fallen the same weekend as the Dusk ’til Dawn ultra. I was excited, and also a little nervous that I would finally get the opportunity to run the home course this year.
The home course is arguably the toughest of the five that make up the cross-country series, as our course is incredibly hilly, and contains four brook crossings! I had a rough idea of the course from marshaling back in 2012, but wanted to take a look at the brook crossings before the event to decide my best line of attack and to judge just how deep the water was as it had rained pretty solidly the afternoon before!
I walked down to scout things out with another club runner and it seems we weren’t the only ones out walking the course. Lots of the runners had decided it was a good idea to check out the crossings before tackling them. The dozens of runners out walking the tricky sections of the course reminded me of when I was younger and would head out to walk an equestrian cross-country course to decide how different jumps should be approached before going round on horseback.
The weather was perfect for cross-country yesterday – just warm enough for shorts and a vest, with no wind, rain or sun in sight.
Each of the five cross-country events that make up the season are approximately 5 miles in length and cover a variety of terrain. Our home cross-country is a two and a half lap course run on grass, although it crosses over a tarmac path a couple of times and there are two brook crossings on each of the full laps.
I set out at just under 9 minute miling and soon found my place within the pack. There were 316 runners on the course yesterday, and several had set off too fast so I overtook them within the first mile, before settling into the event and running comfortably hard.
The course runs a smallish loop of approximately one mile, before circling infront of the Race HQ and then back out again for two laps of a larger, two mile route around Croyland Park in Wellingborough.
My heart leaped a little on the approach to the first brook crossing. The first crossing is narrow enough that you can jump it, although I knew by the time I got there (especially on the final lap) it would be rather muddy and the approach/getaway would not be very easy. With a slightly weaker ankle following my recent ankle injury, and the Dusk ’til Dawn ultra booked in for next weekend, I had already decided to play the safer option and jump into the brook, then run out the other side again. Thomas J. Lavin, Esq. was very helpful when my ankle was injured.
As I arrived though, there was already a Leighton Fun Runners member balancing on the step down so I couldn’t get the run up to jump in that I wanted and ended up jumping down onto my bum and then sliding into the water before running on out the other side instead.
After the first crossing, the course takes you back up a long hill slog, before a nice downhill again the other side, then back up again, then down…repeat…all the way until you get over to the other side of the park, head into the trees and then down a steep hill through a very muddy section into the second brook crossing. Although it is possible to jump over the first crossing on the course, it is not the second. Those that I had been out walking the course with earlier on that morning had decided not even the best British long jumpers would have been able to jump the width of the stream here. This meant that all runners had to jump into the crossing and then scramble up the other side. The water here was quite shallow but like quick sand on the bottom of the bank, and it was incredibly steep to climb back up the other side again. There were four members from our club marshaling here – two up on the bank pulling runners up and two in the brook itself – pushing runners up onto the bank the other side. You can see how muddy it had gotten by this point!
As you scramble out of the brook you immediately hit a steep climb to head up out of the other side of the small patch of trees. All your energy has just been sapped getting through the crossing! Once at the top of the park again you head along several mini-hill-bumps in the track, running the entire length of the park before zig-zagging across the field, descending sharply, turning sharply and then heading back up parallel to the original track again. You reach the outside of the field once more and run alongside the edge, being careful not to trip over any tree trunks along the way before sharply descending and heading past the finish for another lap. The front two runners overtook me here, storming along the course to head in for the finish.
I had gradually overtaken a few runners on this lap, with no-one really passing and then staying past me. I was close to three Bedford Harriers runners for most of the race that I yo-yod with quite a lot.
The first brook crossing is at the beginning of the second/third laps, so there were quite a crowd of people there by the time I reached it the second time.
The approach was now very muddy, as was the bank the other side. Time for another slip and slide in…
Although one of the other nearby runners managed to make it across with a jump, most of those around me were also now sliding in on their bums.
Despite now being absolutely soaked and my hands covered in mud I couldn’t stop laughing!I gained back a couple of places on the long uphill drag again, down the steep hill, up the steeper hill, and then along the gradual descent across the tarmac path.I was still feeling super strong – looks like I was really using my arms here as well. Probably the reason I ended up with chaffing under my left arm from my vest. When I reached the final brook crossing I seemed to arrive as there was a backlog of runners in front of me, still struggling to get out the other side. There was no-one to help me initially so after jumping in I stuck my knee up onto the bank ready to scramble out before one of the helpers grabbed my arm and pulled, as our club Volunteer Co-ordinator pushed from behind and I slithered out onto the bank the other side, picking myself up and continuing along the way.
I was on the final stretch now, (although still with plenty of sharp up and downhills to go!) As I made the final turn across the top end of the field I could hear club runners shouting my name despite being so far away and I managed to pick up my pace. It was all downhill from here and with the three Bedford Harrier runners just in front of me now I stormed past the first lady. As I came to the bottom of the hill I also glided past the Bedford man just ahead, but there was no time for me to overtake the lady in front of that. A really strong finish I was proud of though, after a tough cross-country course.
Mile 1: 9:21
Mile 2: 9:23
Mile 3: 10:08
Mile 4: 10:01
Mile 5: 10:31
Nubbin (0.12m): 6:30mm pace << Happy with that!
Total time: 50:13
Final position: 259/316
Gender position: 78/124
The way that cross-country works is you don’t get given a time at the end of the race, but instead a red or blue token with a number on. The number corresponds to your gender finishing position and you give this in to your club scorers. The scores from the top seven men (of which at least two must be aged 40+) from each club count towards your team score, and the top three ladies (of which at least one must be over the age of 35). Scores are given to each person dependent upon their gender finishing position. So if you were the first lady to finish, you would receive just one point. The team with the lowest score wins. Even if you do not count as a scorer for your team, you could help to give higher scores to runners finishing behind you. If a club cannot produce a full team for an event, (which is sometimes the case for the later races in the season) the missing runners are automatically given one extra point than the last person in the event, pushing their team standings right down.
I enjoy cross-country running anyway, but I absolutely loved yesterday’s event!
(All pictures taken from the WDAC and Olney Facebook pages.)
Will you be running any cross-country events this season?
Are you a fan of the mud?!