Summer is over, and cross country season is here. For most people, both of these statements are very bad news (especially the smokers at school who’d be forced into a few laps around the woods once a year), but for some runners, the first race is something akin to Christmas, New Year and Easter all coming at once. You notice how I use the word some here, as I have plenty of running mates who shudder at the thought of cross country.
I’ve switched clubs over the summer, now running with the Clapham Chasers, who compete in the Surrey League (1st division, of which there are four). After a relegation dog fight last year, the Chasers managed to ensure survival in the top division in the final fixture, meaning we’ll get to enjoy another season of the glamour, massive crowds and high wages that the top league brings.
Not one to miss out on an opportunity to parkrun, Katie and I headed to Fulham for our weekly 5km fix, running together as she continued her comeback from injury by recording another impressive time. The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent lounging about on the sofa, wanting to eat but not being able to as I didn’t wanted to be too bloated for the race – for me the biggest downside about running!
Richmond Park is only a few miles away so I decided to spin over on my bike. To say it wasn’t exactly cross country conditions is probably an understatement – the sun was out, the ground was rock hard and there wasn’t a speck of mud in sight. The proper enthusiasts weren’t happy, but I wasn’t too disappointed – I’m sure there’ll be plenty of time to get muddy over the course of the season.
Throughout the week the team atmosphere had been building, led by our fearless leader Keith, who had been rallying the troops and advising on footwear choices; there was no need for spikes, so I just went with my normal road trainers. Once most of the team had arrived, we headed out on a warm-up lap, managing to get lost about half way round. It was all good fun though, and there seemed to be much more of a team feel than when I’d previously ran cross country, which made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.
Back at the start, there was time for a few quick stretches before everyone began to line up ready to go. I had a brief chat with my triathlon buddy George Bright who I knew was a decent runner, so I planned to just shadow him early on, as it’s pretty hard to pace a cross country race due to the constant up and down nature of the courses – I usually just run on feel.
The standard at these races is usually very high, so I knew better than to stand near the front at the start, settling for somewhere in the middle of the pack. After a few shouts of ‘Come on Chasers’, it fell silent as we waited for the starting signal.
Straight from the start, everyone absolutely flew off, helped by the fact that the first half a mile was mainly downhill. I wasn’t quite full on sprinting, but it wasn’t far off. There were bodies everywhere and I was just constantly watching my feet to make sure I didn’t land flat on my face and get trampled by the hordes of people around me.
The route was 2 laps of around 2.9 miles, so just short of 10km in distance. It was hard work right from the start, with everyone running flat out scrapping for every position. It wasn’t until near the end of the first lap that things started to settle down and I attempted to find some sort of rhythm. With no mud to slow us down, the pace was frenetic from the start, and by the end of the first lap I knew I was in for a very tough day.
The great thing about racing for a team is the comradery out on the course. If a Chaser came past me (or vice-versa), there’d be encouragement to run together to try and overtake rival runners from other clubs. I find this atmosphere can really help you to squeeze every bit of energy out ‘for the greater good’.
The ladies had raced earlier in the day, and a few had come out to support the guys, and it was a great boost in the final few hundred metres as I buried myself to try and grab a final few spots. I managed to overtake 4 or 5 guys in the last minute or so of the race, and held off another chap who was gaining on me quickly. I crossed the line, absolutely spent, and needed a few minutes to get myself together – I couldn’t remember the last time I’d ran that hard in a race.
I was really happy with my run, but had only placed 99th out of 213! There were some seriously quick people racing today, and it’s humbling to know how many people are just simply much better than you – something to use as future motivation. The real surprise is that I’d actually manage to score for the club – the top 10 from each team score points, and I was 10th chaser out of the 47 guys we fielded. It was an aim for the season to score at least once, so to do so in my first race made this a positive result in my books.
George Mallett was first chaser home in an impressive 38th position. The table after the first round of fixtures can be seen above, and it’s looking like it might be another year of scrapping to stay in the top divison. Full team standings and results can be found here.
I absoloutely loved running with the Chasers for the first time, and it seems like we’ve got a really decent group of guys. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the cross country season, hoping to build up some more strength and endurance on the hills around Surrey.
Following a few beers on Saturday night, I’d committed to run the Wimbledon Common half marathon with my mate Charlie the following morning. Rolling out of bed and running to the start, my legs intially weren’t playing ball but as I got into it they began to loosen up. Charlie and I ran round together in the rain and mud – it turned out to be great morning.
After a short session on the indoor bike trainer on Sunday evening, it’s safe to say I was officially goosed. Just the way I like it.