Southern Cross Country Championships 2017

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Saturday 28th January 2017

This regional cross country race which takes place at Parliament Hill was 15km (approx 9.3 miles) in distance, on muddy & hilly terrain and the senior mens race at 2.50pm was 3 laps of a course that had already seen 9 races before this one and therefore the route was well worn to say the least. With a senior men’s field in excess of 1,000 it wasn’t about to get any better. However, this year I had an advantage of knowing the course having made my debut in 2016 and I also had a time to beat. I ran 1:08.20 last year and knew from the good cross country season that I have had that I should be aiming for a time around 1:03.

It was a busy day for me as I prepared for one of (if not) the toughest races of the year (yes, I know it’s only January). On the morning of the race I was volunteering as photographer at the local parkrun (Royal Tunbridge Wells) and managed to get some great shots of the 196 participants at this event to which I am the Event Director.

The section of the RTW parkrun course lovingly known as “The Quagmire”.

One runner almost loses a shoe to “The Quagmire”!

Once the final finisher made their way across the line it was into the cafe to process the results and then a short drive home to collect my kit before walking to the train station in order to catch a train around midday. The journey to the venue wasn’t too bad as it was straight to London Bridge and then a 20 minute tube ride on the Northern Line to Kentish Town. I managed to catch up with a couple of club members whilst walking to the venue and each of us were optimistic on our chances of a good run.

I managed to get a few pictures of the venue when I arrived as I had an hour to settle, get changed and warm-up. The weather was reasonably mild (approx 8 degrees), given the recent cold temperatures that we have had and also sunny, so I was able to wear the sunglasses that I had worn at this race the year before.

Sun, blue skies and the Tonbridge AC shelter (blue in the centre of picture)

Spectacular view of the City of London and the race start at the foot of Parliament Hill

Me in 2016 “avec” sunglasses (photo courtesy of Mark Hookway)

Each club is assigned a starting “pen” and our club (Tonbridge AC) were to start on the far side, in pen 14 (there were more than 100 pens in total). The race starts by going up a gradual incline before making your way down into the first of 3 fields. The course is hilly/undulating with very little in the way of flat sections and I really started to feel my thighs burning early on in the race, somewhere between 3-4 miles. I began to find myself struggling up the hills but overtaking people going down as I built momentum in the middle and toward the latter stages of the race. My average mile pace was 6:52 and I was pleased to finish with a quick last mile, crossing the line in 1:03.13 (in position 492) – over 5 minutes faster (and 57 positions better) than my 2016 debut , which I am delighted with.

Finally, I was aware that having been an avid listener of the “Running Commentary” podcast for the past few months (a very funny & entertaining listen if you get the chance), one of the presenters, comedian Paul Tonkinson was to be running in this race and so I hung around at the finish for a few minutes to see if I could meet him and say a quick hello. I knew that he was running for London Heathside and could see a group of runners from that club chatting at the finish already. I’m pleased to say that, just over 3 minutes after me Paul crossed the line, looking (like everyone I’m sure) completely knackered!! I said a quick hello, well done and thanks for the podcast before making my way back up the hill just in time for the team photo.

Tonbridge AC senior men’s team, post-race – me pictured standing second in from the right (photo courtesy of Mark Hookway)

It was a very long and tiring day for me and I estimate that I must have covered at least 18 miles by foot throughout the day, but it didn’t end there. One of my work colleagues had arranged a social in town, with a meal at 8.30pm and so upon arriving home at around 6.15pm it was time for a quick chocolate milk, refuelling, shower & change before driving down just in time to meet the team. I enjoyed a 7oz fillet steak with Roquefort butter and frites, before heading over to a local bar for my one and only drink for the night – it was certainly a pleasant way to end a very busy day!

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