Reading my report from this race last year, I’ve pulled out the following extract;
‘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.’
My strava activity from last year had the title of ‘One word – brutal’. I initially started this blog to retain memories of past races and experiences, but it seems that present day me thinks that he knows better – when it came to putting my name forward I found myself thinking; ‘Well, how hard can it really be – it’s just a run.’
This is a direct message to future me – DO NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS RACE NEXT YEAR. In my opinion it really is one of the toughest out there. Roughly 15km of relentless hills, mud and top quality runners. Every single runner looks like they’ve gone to hell and back at the finish line. You get a good chance to prove how tough you really are out on the heath – there’s no hiding places. Well, there are plenty, but stopping to hide won’t help you get to the finish any quicker.
So, sign ups opened way before christmas, and obviously I was one of the first to declare myself happy to run. I also managed to coax Katie into taking part, convincing her that cross country will make her stronger and luring her in with the promise of the beer at the end of the day. After volunteering at Fulham Palace parkrun in the morning, we made our way over to Hampstead Heath to meet up with the merry band of Chasers, some who’d made the extremely sensible decision to come out and support instead of run – it seems we do have some intelligent people at our club.
The Southerns is a real festival of running, with various junior races taking place throughout the day, cumulating with the senior womens and then the mens race. I think it’s great that cross country is split in this way, as it gives us guys the chance to support the girls running and vice versa – I hardly ever get to watch Katie run so it was great fun getting to shout at her as she powered her way up the hills.
All the girls had a great run, roared on by a top quality Chasers support crew based at various points around the course. Placings were as follows;
Laurel Bray – 231st (Happy birthday!)
Kim Tyler – 338th (Thanks for organising)
Gemma Brierley – 388th (Happiest person on the course)
Katie Lysons – 398th (Got her shovel out and dug deep)
Ania Jurkiewicz – 428th (Fought hard all the way to the end)
Almost immediately after the ladies had finished, it was time for the start of the mens race. Having had a chance to watch this in the past, it really is an impressive sight – over 1000 runners charging from the lido all the way up to the top of Parliament Hill. It’s impossible not to let the adrenaline take hold, but knowing the course narrows considerably at the top of the hill, I made the rookie mistake of taking it a little too easy and as a result was stuck running slower than I’d have liked in the opening mile or so – it was so congested.
It was elbows out and try not to get trampled on in the early stages, before the hills and mud started to string the field out. Having some idea of the 7 stages of hell I was about to go through, I knew the only option was to build into the race, taking the first lap fairly steady before attempting to raise the tempo a bit later on. I’d also been doing less running this January than last year, with more focus on swim and bike, so I wasn’t sure how strong my legs would be in the closing stages.
Within 15 minutes I was working hard with the horrible knowledge that there was a long, long way to go. It’s at this point that I should probably highlight the fact that everyone in the race was there by choice – this is our idea of a fun Saturday afternoon out. People always question my love of running, and could quite rightly use this race as evidence as to why they think it’s mad that we do it. But I know deep down I was enjoying it, in a savage kind of way.
I saw Katie at the end of the first lap, hoping for some words of encouragement or at least distraction from the task at hand. I was greeted with ‘it’s awful, isn’t it’. Yes darling. Yes it is. Thanks for reminding me. (Only joking obviously, she was great – as were all the Chasers out and about).
The course layout was such that at various points you passed runners heading the other way either slightly ahead or behind on a different part of their lap. The guys at the front were absolutely flying, I find it amazing how quickly they travel across the rough terrain and how easy they make it look. Then you’ve got me trundling along as gracefully as a fish trying to walk on land.
I’ve recently picked up a triathlon coach to try and improve and help structure my training, and Coach Dan was present to support (also being a fellow Chaser), so there was extra incentive to not be crap and prove that I’ve got at least a small amount of mental toughness. So I slogged through the second lap, picking off places on the climbs then holding my own on the way back down.
Into the final 5km and it was just a case of burying myself and trying to pick off as many runners ahead as possible. As we passed each point on the course I ticked it off mentally, getting a boost from knowing I wouldn’t have to tackle that particular section again (at least for another year maybe..). I was still picking off runners, making sure I could walk/be dragged off the finish line with absolutely nothing left to spare.
The last 500m or so are really fast and downhill and it was incredible how the tempo just seemed to lift when everyone got a sniff of the finish line. Some of the guys absolutely flew down the final hill, while I was disappointed to find I really had nothing left, being passed by around 5 or 6 people in the last minute or so. However, I had an eye on sneaking under an hour and just managed to do so, finishing in 59:48, a good 3 minutes or so faster than last year, although it was definitely less muddy this time around.
I ended up in 321st place, an improvement of a whole 10 places on last year, so I guess that’s something! After saying hello to a few friends from other clubs I’d seen out on the course, it was time to head en masse to the pub for a few well earned beers, which slipped down unbelievably well.
In the aftermath, my calves have never been so sore after a race in my entire life. I’ve had to take a step back from training hard for a few days and give them a bit of time to recover – not ideal but my A race isn’t for another 6 months so I’m not in a rush to get injured.
The cross country season is nearly over with just one final Surrey league fixture to get through in a couple of weeks. Then it’s back to the road for another spring/summer. Now, where do I sign up for next year?