North London Cross Country Championship – 22/11/2014

This Saturday brought about my second ‘double-header’ in consecutive weeks, consisting of a 5K parkrun in the morning followed by a hard cross country race in the afternoon. I think the most depressing thing about this is the fact that I now consider this as a fairly normal thing to do in my free time. Still, running is cool these days, right?

A downside to training pretty regularly in the mornings is the inability to sleep beyond 7am, and I was awake and ready to go about 2 hours too early. After unsuccessfully attempting to get a bit more sleep, we (Katie was down this weekend) headed across to Brockwell in the slightly damp conditions.

I’m steadily racking up the parkrun appearances and this would be my 22nd jaunt around the south London park I now consider my second home. As mentioned it was pretty wet due to the large amount of rain over the past 24 hours, so much so that the finish line had to be altered slightly so the race wouldn’t finish on the grass as it normally does.

Katie decided to volunteer as a marshal this week and so there were plenty of opportunities for us to shout abuse at each other on the way around.

I’d decided to coast around this morning, as I had last week, with the cross country race later in the day being the main focus. I stuck myself in the middle of the pack of around 250 runners and we were off. I settled into a very steady pace and made my way around, making sure to thank the various volunteers who’d given up their time on a Saturday morning. All apart from Katie that is, who was in the process of being chatted by some old man she’d picked up off the street – I tried to offload her onto him permanently but he was having none of it.

The Brockwell route consists of two laps of the park, with a sharp hill at the beginning of the second lap which is always guaranteed to knock the wind out of your sails. However, you can then cruise down the other side and Katie was at the bottom waiting to shout more abuse at me – I unsuccessfully tried to take her out as she moved out of the way too quickly. Forgetting I was in the middle of a running race, I decided it’d probably be best to crack on towards the finish.

As usual I couldn’t resist pushing on in the final kilometre or so to pass a few people on the last long straight before the finish. I crossed the line in 22:50, which was a whole minute faster than last week; slightly concerning given the imminent cross country race, but I didn’t feel as if I’d pushed too hard. This placed me 76th out of 253 runners.

With no time to hang about we headed back to grab some food before making our way over the Alexandra Palace, the venue for the afternoons race. The format for most cross country meets is always usually; juniors, followed by women, followed by the men racing last. We arrived in plenty of time and so had a chance to watch the women’s race unfold.

It was a two way battle at the front with a girl from my club (Serpentine) fighting for top spot with a runner from Highgate Harriers. We offered plenty of support to our runner (as well as everyone else taking part), but the other girl managed to pull away on the final ascent of the massive hill (more on that later) to get the win.

In no time at all it was the guys turn to run, so I stripped down to my vest and shorts and made my way to that start line of what was to be a 3 lap race – covering a total distance of 5 miles. I’m always well aware that there is usually a large amount of ‘proper’ runners at these meets, so I tend to put myself further towards the back of the pack at the start knowing the faster guys will just run off into the distance anyway.

159 of us set off and as usual the start was a bit of a scrum, with everyone vying for a good position within the crowd of runners. Adrenaline usually kicks in during the first half a mile and it’s always quite hard not to get carried away and today was no exception. I’d been given further advice similar to last week; ‘don’t set off too fast, you’ll pay for it later.’ Well, as usual with me, this was in one ear out the other as I began striding past numerous runners from other clubs.

Start

lap 1

The first 3 quarters of the lap were pretty flat, running all the way around the edge of the bottom section of the park. Everything was all going relatively well until I reached the hill we’d been watching the ladies run up earlier. It’s hard for me to put into words just how ridiculous this hill is, and it was by far the toughest hill I’ve ever done. It was a complete bog, having been churned up by all the previous races going up and down it, and guys were slipping all over the place trying to get some purchase on the ground. Added to that the fact it was pretty steep meant that it was an absolute killer on the legs.

I’ve actually found I’m not so bad at hills myself (probably helps doing a lot of my training in the relatively hilly Brockwell Park), so I found myself passing a few guys on the way up, before reaching the summit and gasping in as much air as humanly possible. You had a chance to catch a breather as you skirted across the top of the hill, before descending all the way back down to the bottom.

There was a fairly sizeable crowd at the bottom so I decided to hare down putting my personal well-being to one side, and just quite how I stayed on my feet all the way to the bottom I still don’t know. At the top section of the descent, two guys fell over directly in front of me – leaving no choice but to hurdle straight over the top of them. It was either that or give them quite a nasty spike in the stomach which I didn’t think they’d appreciate. I shouted back to see if they were ok, but pretty quickly they were up and passing me again so I just got on with it. The bottom of the hill signalled the completion of the first lap – just two more to go then!

bottom hill

The problem with multi-lap races is that you now know exactly what to expect for the remainder of the race, and knowing how hard that hill was just lead to the feeling of dread to grow to a crescendo during the lap and before you knew it, it was upon you again. As mentioned earlier, I’d set off at two quick a pace and began to pay for it in the 2nd and 3rd lap. I continued to slog my way round, and started the last lap with very little left in the tank.

At this point Katie popped up for what I assumed would be some motivating words – instead I got asked how I was feeling. I won’t print the full version here, but the clean version was something along the lines of ‘I’m completely knackered.’ Expecting some kind words of encouragement, all I got was her finding my current predicament absolutely hilarious. Don’t worry, I’ll remember that one…

Getting to the bottom of the hill for the last time I told myself it was time to dig in, and I had just been passed by two fellow club-mates (Serpies). We all worked together at the bottom part of the hill, before I pushed on towards the top with a runner from Hillingdon Athletics Club clearly in my sights. I followed him down the hill and accepted I was going to be involved in a sprint finish. I turned the final corner and had a good 200m to run up to the finish. I drifted past him but a quick look showed me another runner (this time from London Heathside) was breathing down my neck. I gave it everything a managed to hold him off by a mere second.
finish

In the end I covered the 5 mile distance is 32.53 (running 7.06 minute miles), and placed 84th out of 159, so slap bang in the middle of the pack. I think I should be relatively pleased with this, as the standard was high with the race consisting entirely of club runners. However, I faded badly in the second half of the race and desperately need to work on my cross country pacing!

Sunday consisted of a steady 6 mile effort – all in all, a decent weekend of training.

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