South of England cross country championships – 27/01/2018

It’s nearly been a month since my last post. I suppose January is never really much of a racing month. It’s more of a, grind out the sessions in the dark and cold kinda month. Not glamorous, especially when you’ve lost some fitness over the Christmas period, but it’s always really pleasing when you start to see the performance in training needle swinging in the right direction. Just to be clear, this isn’t a real needle; the words performance and needles need to be carefully managed here.

So, what’s been going on since the New Year’s Day triathlon? Not much to be honest. I went to Marrakesh with work, ended up getting pretty ill and subsequently didn’t train for 7 days; probably the longest time completely off training in the last 4 years. Since then I’ve been steadily building back into the training, which has been quite bike focused.

I have also been doing a fair bit of swimming (4-5 times a week), seeing Ray from Swim Canary Wharf regularly, and together we’re finally starting to see some progress. I no longer look like a sinking concrete block when I swim, so there’s hope for absolutely everyone out there – if I can do it, so can you!

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What an alien

I hadn’t raced cross country all season, so it was shaping up to be a baptism of fire at this weekends South of England champs at Stanmer Park in Brighton. After a hard 3 x 5km session on Thursday night with the Chasers, I was going into the weekend with a fair bit of fatigue in the legs. So, with that in mind, Katie and I headed to parkun in the morning as the coach for Brighton wasn’t leaving until 11am.

Katie won’t mind me saying that she’s not having the best time of it at the moment. Her knee injury is refusing to heal up, despite us trying pretty much everything to fix it. It’s so hard to see her so frustrated and upset, and I wish there was more I could do to help. It was suggested we just have a jog around Wimbledon Common parkrun so she could at least get out for some fresh air, and I was only too happy to oblige; running together is always one of my favourite times.

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After a quick shower and breakfast I was straight on the coach down to Brighton along with 30 other Clapham Chasers. The forecast was looking pretty grim and the dark clouds were rolling in as we parked up at the Brighton football stadium. Luckily, I’d made the sensible decision to bring half my wardrobe, so I looked like the Michelin man on the walk over to the park.

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The girls were off first, so we got a chance to watch others suffer before it was our turn. The course included some pretty horrible hills and we positioned ourselves at the top of one of these to watch them all slog their way up, knowing we’d be in the same situation in about 45 minutes time. Steph Davis finished in a quite brilliant 14th place, with all the Chasers performing well and most looking like they were enjoying themselves at the same time (not Alice Whiley).

This was my 3rd year in a row racing this event, with the last two years being held on Hampstead Heath.

2016 report
2017 report

Just before the men’s start the rain got heavier and the wind seemed to turn into a gale. I, along with what seemed like the entire male field, huddled in the sanctuary of the changing tent until the last possible moment, playing a game of chicken to see who could arrive seconds before the start and therefore not freeze to death. I probably hadn’t helped myself by putting on a pair of shorts that were probably intended for a 7 year old child, and therefore not offering up much protection from the weather.

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15km is a long way to race cross country, and I’d resolved to really take the first of three laps steady, building into my effort and saving something in reserve for the second half of the day. In races like this, time is pretty irrelevant, and I’m never going to be anywhere near the front, so the pressure is off slightly and you can attempt to ‘enjoy’ it a bit more.

We were set on our way and I’d started too far back, getting slowed at some of the pinch points (my own fault). We soon hit the first hill which was absolutely despicable, and I felt like I was in survival mode already. It was a mix of emotions reaching the top; joy that it was over, and dread knowing I’d have to go up it another 2 times.

Despite the horrible conditions the support on course was great, with friendly faces popping up all over the place. I slowly started to enjoy myself, until I got to the final descent, where I managed to trip and fall at speed, landing flat on my rib-cage before I could get my arms down to protect myself. It was one of those moments where you’re so winded that you want to cry, but you can’t, because you’re an adult and there are other people watching.

After 30 seconds of trying to suck air into my lungs, I hauled myself off the deck (obviously now covered in mud) and got myself going again. After this, I struggled to get back into a rhythm and took the second lap pretty steadily, knowing there was still a pretty long way to go.

As I started the last lap, it was rather annoyingly dawning on me that I wasn’t going to make it to the end without having a quick pit stop in the bushes. I found a secluded spot and more seconds were wasted; by this time though I’d kinda given up caring. To ‘cap’ it all off, going up one of the final hills a branch knocked my hat off, so I had to turn around and run back down and retrieve it.

Usually I’m up for a good scrap in the last few minutes, but this time I was just letting people past me without much of a fight, just happy to get through the race without any further mishaps. 305th place was actually a slight improvement on last years 321st, although there were far less runners this year.

Strava activity

Everyone was relieved to get out of the rain and back onto the coach, although it took a while to warm up again as every item of clothing was absolutely soaked. I think the best phrase to describe the day would be ‘character building’, but I got a good training session out of it, so can’t have any complaints.

I backed it up with a 3 hour ride on the turbo trainer on Sunday morning followed by a 20 mile hike in the Surrey Hills with Katie which was by far the highlight of the weekend. Next up is the Wokingham half marathon in 3 weeks time – lots of hard work to do before then!

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