Two parkruns and the final cross country

This post is delayed partly due to me hoping that there would have been some cross-country photos posted online, but there doesn’t seem to have been any.  (The rest of the delay is purely down to laziness!)

Last week was parkrun #69 for me.  Laura has recently undergone surgery and currently unable to run so offered to be tailrunner at Northampton parkrun.  She hadn’t walked as far as 5k since her operation, and as I ended up with Oscar in the buggy for the morning I offered to walk round with her at the back.  Not a great deal to report about the event – just chatting at the back and walking a 5k really!  Laura wrote about it in more detail than me though.

Garmin time: 53:01
Official time:
 53:00
Position: 486/488
Gender position: 210/212
Age category position: 36/37

I didn’t even take a cake picture afterwards!  The only thing really note-worthy from the event was that it was ridiculously cold!  I dressed Oscar up in a vest, sleepsuit, fluffy jumper, woolly hat, snowsuit and two blankets for the parkrun and at one point I spotted a few tiny flakes of snow falling from the sky.

The following day was the final cross-country race of the Three Counties Cross-Country season.  I missed the first three of the series as they fell too soon following the birth of Oscar for me to be out racing, but I made it to the Letchworth event just before Christmas and was looking forward to the final event to be held at Sharnbrook last weekend.

With a bit of enthusiasm drummed up on social media, there was to be a much larger turn out of runners than there had been representing our club at the Christmas event, which made me a little nervous.

Frustratingly my phone battery died on arrival at the school ground where the race was to be held, and despite seeing several supporters out snapping photos, I am yet to see any posted online, bar a couple of set up shots from one of the marshals.

Sharnbrook cross-country trail

(Photo credit)

It was pretty fresh out there, although I had decided to just stick to my standard cross-country attire consisting of shorts, a t-shirt and my club vest.  It didn’t take too long to warm up though, and after a lap of the school playing field we were launching ourselves down a steep slope and out through the neighbouring fields with feeling in fingers once more!

Last year, – the first year the course had been part of the series – it had been incredibly muddy.  So, so very muddy!  This year there had been very little rain in the weeks leading up to the event, although there had been a lot of thick mist which had settled early in the mornings that week, giving everything a rather damp feel, without things getting too boggy.

The ruts were still there along the tracks, but now with added ice along the top which meant for some slippery running.

I always think that the back runners at cross-country have a much tougher time than the front runners as by the time all the front runners have been along the course it ends up churned up and much more difficult to run in.  This time round though, the front runners were all hitting the ice first.

The route was slightly different this year, and included a couple of fallen trees as jumping obstacles!  I didn’t fully trust my legs, especially as many in front of me considerably slowed for the obstacles, denying me of any real run-up.  I opted to quickly clamber over them instead.

The toughest part of this course is the final sprint across the long field at the finish.  It’s churned up from all the runners ahead of you and this year the mud was that horrible sticky type of mud which just makes your trainers become more and more heavy until you stop to pick out the mud with a strong stick.  Visibility is good across the final field so you have the rest of your clubmates cheering you in the whole way and there’s no chance of slowing down.  You must speed up for the finish, and right at the very end there’s a bit of a bank just before you cross the line requiring that last bit of effort for the finish!

Sharnbrook cross-country trail

(Photo credit – taken pre-churning!)

I’m so happy that I remained consistent and ran the entire way, finishing about where I expected to position-wise.

Position: 295/336
Gender position:
82/118
Distance: 5.75m
Garmin time: 57m 46s

Three Counties race number

As I’m sure I’ve explained before – cross-country doesn’t record times, but rather finishing positions.  The aim is to beat other runners of the same gender.  You get a certain number of points depending on your finishing position.  The higher the number points, the lower down the table you come.  Each scoring team at this league consists of eight male runners and four female runners.

I will never be fast enough to score for our club, as we have quite a strong cross-country team.  However, I am fast enough to push the scores of some of the other teams down and any clubs who cannot make the twelve runners required for scoring receive the number of points given to the final finisher plus one.  (Hope that made sense!)

This past weekend I was back to Northampton parkrun again.  This time without Oscar, as Dan had him for the morning.  It’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to actually run the whole way at Northampton parkrun since Oscar was born and I was looking forward (although also slightly nervous!) to picking up the pace and feeling slightly uncomfortable on the run.

I perhaps didn’t set off as far forward as I should have done, erring on the side of caution, although I instantly regretted this.  It’s been a long while since I ran with the 26-27 minute runners and it has become so overcrowded at that point in the runners.  It was still perhaps 10 runners wide at the first corner of the run (about a quarter of a mile in) and I struggled to push myself into a spot onto the path from the grass verge.

Mile 1: 8:18

I planned on running to heart rate, trying to stick to about 170bpm.  As always, it took a little while for my heart rate to pick up at the beginning of the run.  I usually capitalise on this if it’s only over 5k and get in a first fast mile.  However, it was so difficult to weave in and out around the other runners that I ended up settling back a little, knowing that I could have gone a little faster.

Mile 2: 8:44

By the end of mile 2 my heart rate was getting a little higher than I would like and had sat around 175bpm for a little while.  I decided to pull it right back and walk up the final hill to ‘reset’ my heart rate before continuing the rest of the run.

Mile 3: 9:18
Nubbin (0.16m): 8mm pace

I was very happy to see a time starting with a ’27’ on my watch as I crossed the line.  My best ever parkrun time at Northampton is 26:37 so I am still a minute away from where I used to be (back in 2015) but I do feel like I’m starting to get back to where I came from now.

Garmin time: 27:37
Official time:
 27:38
Position: 215/461
Gender position: 44/193
Age category position: 8/24

As I was without buggy we could go to Magees this week, the first time in ages.  I did take a picture of that cake!

Magee Street Bakery - salted caramel tart

Have you struggled with a particular pace being overcrowded on a race/parkrun?
Have you run a race where there have been tree jumps/other obstacles before?!

 

My first post-baby cross-country

love cross-country.  The courses, the mud, the support, the rivalry.

One of the benefits of membership with my running club is that each year you get free entry into all of the Three Counties Cross-Country races, of which there are five.

When I first posted a picture of Oscar announcing his arrival on my running club Facebook page back in September, I vowed to return to running in time to make the end of cross-country season.  With two races still left in the 2016-17 series I returned for the fourth event this past Sunday.

The last race before Christmas always has a fantastic atmosphere.  Runners are adorned in Santa hats and tinsel and there are even musicians out on the course playing festive songs.  I loved the addition this year of hanging foil Christmas decorations between stakes instead of red and white tape too!  There was also something happening with baubles out marking the course – although I almost stepped on one thinking it was a mushroom! Letchworth cross-countryHaving run the course before (2014 / 2015) I knew that Letchworth cross-country, hosted by North Herts Road Runners, was a fairly straight forward one.  There were two long hills, but hills which only had a small incline.  The weather hasn’t been too wet lately, so mud would not really be an issue either.

Letchworth cross-country

I started off right at the back – although there was a bit of a confusion over which direction the back was…we ran the other way round the field last year!
I would prefer to be overtaking other runners rather than constantly be overtaken myself and it was nice to pass several runners out in the field early on.

Letchworth cross-countryWhen I first began I kept another Wellingborough runner in sight who tended to finish in similar positions to me before I became pregnant.  I had no intentions of pushing myself hard whilst out on the course, but I had no idea how well I would be able to pace things either, so thought it would be best to keep a marker in sight to focus on.

Despite having planned to clean my trail shoes on the Saturday night, I ended up too tired and it never happened.  There was no point in attempting to clean them when I woke up on Sunday morning as I would just have ended up with soggy feet, so I pulled out a pair of old trail shoes from a couple of years ago.  So trusted and worn that the fabric across the bridge of my feet is completely destroyed.

They felt incredibly heavy compared to the road shoes I’ve been sporting recently and it was a real effort to lift my feet without feeling weighed down, but the tread is still very good and I could still trust them not to slip on any of the slightly slippier trail out on the course.

The course is almost an out-and-back course, although at the far end the route loops round a couple of fields before returning on the same track that the runners headed out on.  I love it when races have a portion of the race where I am able to cheer in our front runners on their way back towards the finish line.  So often they cheer me over the line but as a slower runner I find myself missing being able to support them on so many occasions.  I managed to cheer our first four club runners up the hill here before my attention was caught by the brass player belting out a version of ‘Jingle Bells’ on my left.

As slower runners we all automatically moved over to the left of the path so that the quicker runners may pass us in the other direction.  The track was filled with large puddles, with an easy way through along the centre of the path where the quicker runners now ran.  Along the side was much harder to balance, with slanted sides sloping down to the puddles underneath!

There were a couple of minor variations to the course this year, such as traveling along the left side of a hedge instead of the right or similar.  But essentially, the course was the same as it had been the previous year.

After months of not wearing my heart rate monitor during my pregnancy, I’d forgotten to put it on that morning.  Because I didn’t want to get carried away and caught up with the crowd I decided from the beginning that I would take a walking break at any point I found myself pushing.  I took two of these short walking breaks whilst out on the course – just for a handful of strides at a time and no-one overtook me to stay in front at these points.

There is a short, sharp drop near the beginning of the race where runners drop down onto a single file track.  It was not possible to overtake along this section but because cross-country is about position rather than time, I enjoyed the steadier pace, pushing past those in front of me as the track opened out again a little further up.  Pushing up the steep slope at 5 miles was tough, but as runners were really spaced out it was easy to get a good run-up at the bank.

I really surprised myself when the Wellingborough runner marker I had chosen at the start of the race finished still in eyesight, and only five places ahead of me.  The runners finishing around me were those who would do normally, when I was at pre-pregnancy fitness.  Perhaps I did strengthen my body more than I first thought when I continued to run over the Summer.

Position: 313/337
Gender position:
 103/123
Distance: 5.59m
Time: 56m 16s

Choice of rolls at the finish included ham and mustard, turkey and cranberry or salmon and dill, with a selection of Christmas themed or decorated cakes and mince pies for dessert!

Have you been to any cross-country events this season?
School cross-country – love it or hate it?!

The muddiest, longest XC! (Sharnbrook)

Last Sunday was the final cross-country race in the Three Counties Cross-Country league.  (My previous recaps for races 1,3 and 4 are here: Wellingborough | Leighton | Letchworth – I wasn’t able to make the second race of the season.)

The final race was a new race for this year – held by Bedford Harriers over in Sharnbrook, with the race headquarters held at the high school.

The race was to be further than the previous races in the series (10k in distance compared to the usual 5 miles) and was after having had a night of solid rain.  I had returned home from my 19 mile run the previous day literally just as the heavens opened and it did not stop raining until it was time for me to leave for the cross-country the following morning!

Bedford Harriers XC at SharnbrookI love this photo from the race start as it seems that the runners are all in colour order!  As a runner myself, I never get to see what the race looks like facing the front of the startline.

The course started out with a lap and a half around the school playing field.  I hate when you have laps around a field to begin with.  It means all the supporters can still see you for quite some time so there is no hiding whilst out on the race!  It was necessary though, as after a sharp drop down a steep hill we headed out through a gap in the hedge which would otherwise have been a squeeze!

It was colder than it has been just lately.  We were more aware of it due to the impending rain showers that we knew were headed our way though I think.  I wore a top with sleeves for the first time this season, although it was actually warm enough that I could have still gone without.

Bedford Harriers XC at SharnbrookIt was incredibly muddy out on the course.  The playing field in this photograph was probably the least muddy of any of the sections out there.  Once we escaped the school grounds we were sent along a farm track that ran the length of a farmer’s field.  We then turned and ran through the middle of the field along a footpath.  This was very tough.  The heavy rain from the previous night had left the mud very slippery, yet still thick and rather stodgy.  The sort of mud that collects on the bottom of your trainers and makes your legs feel like lead.

We left the field and turned out onto a rutted track.  The same rutted track that we ran as part of the Colworth 8.1m race back in June I believe.  This was mentally tough as you had to be strategic in where you placed your feet.  The mud here was incredibly wet and slippery.  The track was lower where tyres had been, but not very wide – making it difficult to run continuously with one foot in front of the other.  The higher parts of the track either side of the ruts, although a little wider, were ridiculously slippery.  You had to be incredibly sure of your footing and once you decided where to place your foot you had to go with it, as a last minute change of plan would see you sliding into the rutted puddles as I saw happen to many others!  I managed to overtake several people along here, and remain upright.  Winning!

The course was arranged in such a way that just before reaching the three mile point I saw the front runners speeding back in the other direction and we exchanged shouts of encouragement to other club members.
Sharnbrook XC courseThe front runners must have had it much easier than us…we were running behind 300 sets of footprints that had churned up our route! 😛

It was a long, steady climb up to mile four, although the mud dictated the pace more than anything.  We were treated to a slight downhill at one stage, although it was on the grass and incredibly slippery so we could never really ‘let ourselves go’ at any point out there!

The finish was through the muddy field that we had run on earlier.  I could actually hear shouts from our club members long before I could see the finish.  Another (usually faster) runner from our club was right behind me so I did my best to stay strong across the field, but it was tough going.  I, like many others, ran just to the side of the path in the field itself, where there was a little more grip for my trainers.  It did nothing to keep the mud from the bottom of my shoes though – my legs were aching by the end of that field!Bedford Harriers XC at SharnbrookAs I made my final sprint towards the finish, conscious that I had someone right behind me, a marshal leapt out infront, slowing me down.  I was desperate to cross the line as the next runner so almost ran through him!  There was a slight rise in ground just before the finish funnel and apparently several runners had slipped and gone over right at the very end, so he was slowing us down to ensure we didn’t do the same.

I actually had a relatively good race seeing as I didn’t push it too hard, knowing the miles had already stacked up in my legs from that week.  I placed roughly where I thought I would in comparison to other runners from my club and did it all whilst staying upright on two feet(!)  There had been a moment where I thought I was going down though a few miles before the finish.  As I approached a marshal point I glanced up to smile and thank the three marshals stood to the side of the path.  Big mistake – don’t lift your eyes from rough ground!  I slipped down onto my knee, but managed to bounce back up again with the help of one of the three marshals who swooped in and grabbed my arm!  All part of the fun though, getting muddy!

Not all of our club remained on their feet at all times!  😉Bedford Harriers XC at SharnbrookWho would be a runner hey?!

Position: 329/376
Gender position:
 109/143
Mile splits: 9:38, 11:19, 12:22, 13:29, 12:12, 12:35, 10:18 pace (0.31m).

(All photographs in this post taken from Adam Langford’s shared Facebook album of the event.)

Obviously all worthwhile for the cake and roll at the end though!  😉

Shorts and a vest for cross-country

It really doesn’t feel like Christmas is happening this Friday at all.  I think partly because I’ve not had much to do with purchasing Christmas presents this year, and have left all the shopping to Dan.  Mainly though I think the lack of feeling Christmassy is due to the weather!

How is it so warm by the 20th December that when we turned up for the fourth cross-country race of the Three Counties league, the majority of our club were kitted out in vests and shorts?! (With the odd Santa hat here and there to remind ourselves that it was actually Christmas time!)

Letchworth cross-country WDAC turnoutI have pictures from the fourth event a few years back when it snowed the entire race…Three counties XC 2011…that wasn’t the case on Sunday though!

In fact, when I got out at the petrol station wearing just my vest and shorts at 8:30am a bunch of bikers dressed in full Santa outfits said they knew they had gotten the date wrong for their Santa ride!  ‘When was Christmas supposed to be again’?!

There wasn’t a huge turnout from our club at the Letchworth event.  The weekend before Christmas is always a tricky one for numbers, as so many runners have family commitments, or are away/fitting in last minute shopping.  This is the event furthest from our hometown as well, taking nearly an hour to get there.  There was still plenty of people to score for our team though.

Cross-country in a Santa hat

The course itself is five and a half miles long and like many of the other events in the series,- mainly run along wide verges at the edge of fields or along farm tracks.  It is essentially an out and back course, although it loops around a large field at the far end of the out and back so you are not turning directly back on yourself.

Letchworth XC

I was running strong from the start of the race and had placed myself just behind another runner from our club who is faster than me.  I was hoping to hold on to her pace for as long as possible, to give me a focus.  I knew that I did at least have a few years of regular off-road running under my belt to give me an advantage over some.

Letchworth XC

I am not a fan of this picture.  I think it looks like I have been photoshopped on – a giant compared to everyone around me!  My shoulders are too hunched up again as well.  No wonder the top of my back is always stiff after a run.

Even though we hadn’t had a huge amount of rain just lately, it seemed that there were large areas of mud out on the course.  There wasn’t any of the thick mud that clogs up the bottom of your shoes, but plenty of puddles and slippery mud at every turn.  Several times I splashed through puddles, overtaking other runners as they cautiously stepped around the edges of the track.

About a mile and a half in to the race you head through a small wood.  Just before reaching the wood the track narrows to single file.  Coming from wide grass verges there then isn’t a lot of space between the person in front, you, and the person behind.  Not my favourite when it comes to running, as I hate having a choppy stride.  From running the race the previous year, I knew there was a small ditch coming up when inside the wood and from a distance I could see the marshal placed there to warn runners of the obstacle coming up.  The ditch is no more than a foot deep and doesn’t contain water.  It is probably two strides across before you jump back out again.  For some reason this year the club had decided to fill the ditch with twigs and sticks.  Twigs and sticks which pointed from the direction we were running from to the other side of the ditch.  Several runners slowed to tackle the obstacle but I would rather push on and keep going.  The guy in front took his second step in the ditch just as I was jumping down.  His step meant that the twigs and sticks (none of which were very thick) rose up at the front to meet the top of my trainer, digging into the front of my toes and tripping me up.

I barrel-rolled into the ditch, instantly picking myself up and continuing with the race.  A guy from Stopsley Striders who was just behind had offered me his hand, but I was up again before he’d fully extended his reach.  He checked I was OK and I was fine, – just annoyed that I’d lost a couple of places from my fall, and my marker from the club was getting away!

The rest of the race went by without incident.  My splits were: 8:44, 9:42, 9:53, 10:06, 9:29, 9:36 pace (over the final nubbin of 0.46m).  A huge improvement on the previous year when my splits had been 9:22, 10:09, 10:54, 10:46, 10:05, 10:18 pace.

Despite knowing I wouldn’t reach the woman ahead of me on the finish straight and there being no other females close behind, the support of the other WDAC club members on the finish line helped me to kick off for a sprint finish over the line.  Cross-country is scored on position, not time, but it’s nice to finish on a high!

It wasn’t until I crossed the finish line and received a lovely purple bag as reward for taking part in the 100th Three Counties Cross Country race that I looked down and realised how much mud I had picked up from my fall and that I was bleeding.

Mud and blood at cross-countryThe perils of cross-country!  I’ve since discovered a lovely turquoise-coloured bruise on my left arm as well and was a little stiff yesterday, but no real damage done.

I stuck around for a roll and cake at the finish.  The event before Christmas always has Christmas-themed food so there was a great selection of salmon and cucumber, ham and mustard, turkey and cranberry rolls and then amongst the wide selection of cakes there were also some mince pies to be had.

Position: 313/376
Gender position:
88/137

If you fall when out on a run do you pick yourself up and carry on, or do you assess the situation before continuing?