This year the English National Cross Country Championships took place in the Midlands, with Wollaton Park in Nottingham acting as the venue. Each year the venue for “The Nationals” alternates between the South, Midlands and North of England – last year it was held in Leeds (Harewood House) and the year before in London (Parliament Hill).
The club which I compete for (Tonbridge Athletic Club) always uses this event as an opportunity to bring a large contingent from the club together (athletes and supporters) by making it a memorable social event and this year was no different. Organisation of the club’s attendance at these Championships is arranged by my coach Mark Hookway, with preparations taking place up to a year in advance! Other than the races themselves, the main occasion is the club awards dinner which takes place on the Saturday evening. In recent years there has often been around 250 athletes and supporters in attendance at the Championships, with many of those attending the dinner in the evening.
With the main races taking place on the Saturday, the club had arranged coach travel up to Nottingham on Friday lunchtime, with pickup points at Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Hildenborough and Riverhead. Hotel accommodation had been arranged at the nearby Hilton hotel for Friday and Saturday, with return travel on Sunday morning.
The travel took approximately 5 hours from Riverhead, which included a 45 minute stop and we arrived at the hotel soon after 6.30pm.
Following check-in, my girlfriend and I took advantage of the hotel leisure facilities – taking in a few lengths of the pool before relaxing in the steam room and sauna. We then enjoyed a late dinner (9pm) in the hotel, for which I had my usual pre-race meal selection of vegetarian pizza!
On the morning of the race there was a wide selection of foods available for breakfast at the hotel. I started off with a bowl of oats, seeds, milk and dried fruits, followed by a small bowl of porridge with honey. I then had a hot breakfast of scrambled egg, tomato, mushrooms and beans. The hotel staff had provided take-away tubs, so I prepared a pre-race snack of greek yoghurt, oats and blueberry compote.
Following breakfast I took the opportunity to relax at the hotel as the senior men’s race is the final event of the day, taking place at 3pm. During the relaxation period, I discovered that my girlfriend was secretly good at table tennis, as she comprehensively beat me 3-1!
As the club transport had departed for the Championships earlier that morning in order to set up the tents and arrive in good time for the junior races, I decided to travel to the venue after lunch by taxi, which was approximately 10 miles from the hotel. We arrived at the venue with over an hour to spare before my race where the weather was dry, mild, overcast and windy.
The senior men’s race is always the last event to take place, with there being 9 races beforehand for under 13’s, under 15’s, under 17’s, under 20’s and senior women. Therefore, if course conditions were bad enough at the start of the day, they would be considerably worse come the final race!
Following a 30 minute walk around the venue, I prepared my kit and then took a 10 minute jog to warm-up before changing and heading to the starting pens. The men’s race consisted of 4 different length laps – an extra small, medium, large and extra large, each with different obstacles to overcome!
I found the first couple of laps extremely tough, but once I got more settled into the race I began to relax, feeling comfortable and strong as I progressed through the field. I finished the race in 801st position with a finishing time of 59:27. There were a total of 1,710 senior men who finished the race and within my club I finished 23rd out of 37 finishers. Although this was my slowest time at these Championships, it was in fact my second highest placing since I ran 51:10 for 668th position at this venue in 2017.
After the race I made my way back to the club tent to begin the clean-up operation and was delighted to hear that the club had won the senior men’s title!
We then made our way back to the hotel on the coach, returning with just over an hour to prepare for the evening events.
Following a pre-dinner drink, the evening kicked off with an awards giving ceremony. This was an opportunity to recognise and celebrate those individuals who had not only performed exceptionally well on the day, but also those coaches and supporters who had contributed time, effort and energy to the club successes over the past year.
Following the awards, dinner was served and I had chosen a soft cheese, onion & tomato tart with a pesto dressing for my starter, followed by salmon, creamed leeks, gratin potato & batton carrots for the main, finishing with a lemon tart with creme anglaise for dessert. The food was very nice and it was also nice to meet and chat with people about the day’s events. The evening finished with a disco, dancing and a few celebratory drinks.
On the Sunday morning it was nice to have a healthy breakfast once more and a chance to relax on the coach journey home.
This was the 5th year in a row for me competing in this race. Unfortunately, with my recent move away from the area to Forest Row, East Sussex, I have taken the difficult decision to resign from the club as an athlete as I am no longer able to make it along to training and I wouldn’t be getting value for money from my club membership. Having been a member of Tonbridge AC since I first took up the sport of running (post-London 2012 Olympics), it is sad to be leaving, but I hope to return to the area in the future and will definitely rejoin if I do.
In the meantime, I have found a local club to join (Lingfield running club) and I shall be transferring my status as an athlete to Lingfield from 1st April when the England Athletics registration fee is due for renewal.
The advantage to being an athlete for an England Athletics affiliated club is that you are able to take advantage of a discount on race entries (usually £2 per race). There are also a number of benefits available to EA athletes, which include discounts at DW Sports, Sunwise, Aftershokz, Strava, Running Imp as well as discounts on England Athletics coaching qualifications.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. Please feel free to leave a comment and check back shortly for my next post which will focus on week 2 of my Cork City marathon training.