The English National Cross Country is regarded as the highlight of the year for our club (Tonbridge AC) and it is a great experience for runners of all ages. The race marks the end of the winter cross country season and sees athletes compete in their own race determined by their respective age category and gender. For example there were over 2,000 senior men competing in my race which was over a distance of 12km – made slightly tougher by the fact that there had been 9 races prior to the senior mens race!
This year’s venue was Wollaton Park in Nottingham and I travelled up by coach on the Friday afternoon along with lots of other athletes as well as supporters and coaches from our club. Last year I travelled up by train after work but didn’t arrive at the hotel until almost 11pm, so this year I decided to take both the Friday and Monday off work as I wanted to be as best prepared as possible for the race.
As my race didn’t commence until 3pm I decided to relax in the hotel rather than travel first thing in the morning to the venue with the rest of the club – I was fortunate enough to have been offered a lift to the venue by a clubmate who had driven up that morning. Whilst I would loved to have been at the venue from the start to support the younger athletes as I had done the previous year, I had decided to be selfish this year and concentrate on my own race.
Due to some bad traffic we arrived at the venue about 40 minutes prior to the start of our race which was just enough time to prepare and warm-up. I had studied the course ahead of the race and was fortunate to have seen some pictures of the course via Twitter and so I had a good idea of what to expect – conditions underfoot looked horrendous in places!
The course itself was undulating with very little in the way of flat or dry sections and with a few short hills thrown in it was certainly a challenge but I felt as though I paced myself pretty well.
My finish time of 51:10 was an improvement of 6:48 on my National début last year. Although this seems a rather dramatic improvement, last year I had run my début half marathon just 6 days prior to the National – this year I made the sensible decision of marshalling at the half instead!
As soon as I crossed the finish line I heard murmurs that the Club had won the Senior Men’s race (12 to score) – an achievement of which the club had not made before – and sure enough it was true! Although I wasn’t part of the scoring 12 it was great to be a part of the Club’s success and there was plenty to celebrate in the evening.
As I mentioned earlier, the Club treat the National Cross Country Championship as the pinnacle of the year and there is always an awards dinner in the evening after the races which gives everyone involved a chance to celebrate not only the achievements from the day but also those athletes, coaches and supporters who have made a difference to the club over the past year.
One award in particular I was aware of (having attended the dinner the previous year) was the “most improved athlete” (male and female) and I felt that I had a good chance of being in with a shout of the award based on my improvement from last year. Sure enough when the award came up and my coach (Mark Hookway, who has been instrumental in the expansion and recent success of the club) began introducing the winner, I knew it was me! I was surprised, delighted and overwhelmed to have achieved the award and it is an honour to be recognised for my improvement, despite the fact that I’m far from being one of the quickest athletes at the club.
On the whole it was a very enjoyable weekend and of course a great success for the Club – here’s to next year!