Southern cross country championships – 30/01/16

6 weeks to go until Barcelona. I can’t quite believe it. The next date with my old friend The Marathon is just over the horizon. Surprisingly, training is going rather well. I was debating whether or not to write that, as ineviatbly things are now going to go tits up.

In the last 4 weeks I’ve averaged around 80 miles per week, including a week where I ran 87 miles – the highest total miles in a single week, ever. I’ve had some encouraging long runs, and my tempo runs are being run at paces I’ve never been able to hit in the past. It’s all set up for what Dave the Lion (my mums partner) likes to term as, a glorious failure. Only time will tell, but if I don’t run under my goal time of 3 hours in Barcelona, it won’t be for lack of trying.

All my mates and work colleagues now think I should be certified insane. I’ve now run for 70 consecutive days without a single day off, and in those 70 days the latest I’ve slept in is probably 7.15am. The earliest wake up call has been 5.15am – all of this just to go running. I’ve also started incorporating some core strength work in the evening (around 3 times a week), which will hopefully assist me in holding on for dear life during the last few miles of the marathon.

Anyway, enough of that – the title of the report is about a recent race I’ve done. The Southern cross country championships brings together all the best runners in the south of England (and then me), to run over a distance of roughly 14km (9 miles), up and down the hills of Hampstead Heath.

As the race didn’t start until nearly 3 in the afternoon, I needed to get my weekly parkrun fix, so I’d signed up to volunteer at Fulham in the morning. I actually do really enjoy watching every once in a while, and cheered everyone on around the 3 lap course. The most pleasing part of the morning was seeing Katie run 24 minutes flat – another huge improvement from a few weeks ago. All looking good on the road to Barcelona/Berlin for her.

I spent the next few hours milling around at home and eating some porridge before heading across to the heath. There’d been a large amount of rain overnight, which had led to parts of the course becoming incredibly churned up and muddy – proper cross country conditions.

The start of one of these cross country events is quite remarkable. The women raced an hour before the men, and I watched on as hundreds of them stormed towards us, about 50 abreast, with the course slowly narrowing as they went straight from the bottom to the top of parliament hill.



Before long it was time to get warmed up. I donned my Serpentine club vest, pinned on my number, threw on my cross country spikes (kind of like football boots, but for running) and set off on a mile or so jog up and down a few hills. By this time, my feet were already absolutely soaked, and I knew I was in for a tough day – it was very, very muddy.

The men assembled at the very bottom of the hill, where the women had started, and I placed myself towards the back, knowing there were some very talented runners in attendance. The starting gun was fired, and we were off speeding away up the first hill. I use the term speeding very loosely here – I’m not quite sure I can call my pace uphill in the mud ‘speeding’.

14ish kilometres is an extremely long way for a cross country race (I’d never done one this long before), so I was determined to pace it sensibly for once. With that in mind I set out at a steady pace that I felt I could maintain for quite a while. It was very difficult to begin with as the course was very congested with the sheer amount of runners (around 500 I would have thought), and at times the pace slowed dramatically as the route narrowed.

I stuck to my mantra of taking it steadily during the first lap, letting people pass me, hoping that maybe I’d see them a bit later on during the race. There were 3 laps in total, so the first was a chance to scope out the route and see what the hills were like. The answer was – brutal. Nearing the end of the first lap, I couldn’t quite comprehend going around the entire thing again not once, but twice more.


Into the second lap and the flow of people passing me had stopped as everyone had settled into a decent rhythm. I was determined to keep it steady, knowing there was still a long way to go. The mud was so deep in parts of the course, you’d put your foot down and it’d come up to just below your knee. I saw a few people fall over, and quite bizarrely, a stranded trainer in the mud. Someone has obviously lost one of their shoes and decided the race was so important that they didn’t have time to go back for it.

Near the end of each lap there was an absolutely horrendous hill which reduced most to walking pace – it was kind of like scrambling up a mountain. Once you’d made it up, you knew the lap was nearly over and there was a small amount of time to get your breath back before the hills started again.


Coming around past the finish at the end of the second lap, I knew it was time to get my head down. Amazingly, I’d run quite a sensible race so far, and felt like I’d definitely left something in the tank for the last lap.


Now it was time to pick off people in front of me and I just tried to make up as many places as possible. Slowly, runners started coming back to me and it was actually a great feeling to be constantly passing runners. I always find it particularly satisfying when I go past a tall, leggy stick thin guy. In my head, I’m this slightly stocky, short-legged creature and have no business being able to run as fast as them, so I always enjoy that.

Into the last mile or so and I was really on the limit, and I knew that dreaded hill was coming up again. I gathered myself and gave it one more mighty effort to get to the top. Once I’ve was over, it was time to put my foot down to the finish. To my amazement, I was still running past people, maybe at the rate of one every 20 seconds or so.


As we neared the finish the crowds started to grow, and there’s just one steep downhill stretch to navigate before the bog that is the finishing straight. I gave it absolutely everything but to my dismay was passed by someone who kicked hard – I just knew there was no way I could live with that. He was the only person I was passed by in the last 2 miles. In that same period I must have gone past around 30 or so guys.


I crossed the line and immediately tried to suck in as much air as physically possible. What an absolute beast of a race. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had to work as hard as that. I shook hands with some of the runners that finished around me, before scooting away to put on some warm clothes.

I’ve no idea of my place yet, the results haven’t been published, but my time was 1 hour, 3 minutes and 6 seconds. Pace isn’t really a factor in races such as this, as it’s impossible to run as fast as on the roads, so I’ll wait to see where I’ve come in the field to be able to judge how well I’ve done. (Edit 331st out of 1027 finishers – not too bad, I’ll take that).

However, looking at the 3 lap times, these are very pleasing; 18.44, 18.40 and 18.55. It looks like I judged my effort relatively well – there was certainly not much of a slow down over the last lap. My average heart rate for the 63 minutes was 174bpm – fairly high then!

As if this wasn’t enough punishment for one weekend, I dragged myself out of bed on Sunday morning for 20 more miles at a steady pace. I made sure to start out slow and for the majority of the run ignored pace and concentrated on keeping my heart rate below a certain effort level. I ended up running 20 miles at an average of 7.27 a mile. A great weekend of running, and more hard training in the bank for Barcelona.

So January has come to an end, and I’ve managed to run 362 miles this month – comfortably the biggest month of running in my life so far. I just hope the training going to bring the rewards. We’ll find out soon enough, the 13th of March is just 6 weeks away.

Strava link to race


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