My ambition at cross-country championship races like the Yorkshire and Northern championships is to make the top half of the field.
Last year, I achieved my goal at the Northern cross-country championships, finishing 320th in a field of 761. That race was on a muddy and hilly course around the Harewood Estate near Leeds (the venue for the Nationals next month).
The 2019 edition was at Pontefract Racecourse on Saturday, a course I know having raced there four years ago. As cross-country courses go, it is one of the easier ones, undulating but with no tough hills.
After a relatively mild and dry winter so far it was reasonably firm underfoot. If they were staging a horse race meeting, I think the going would have been described as good with patches of good to soft.
I harboured ambitions of cracking the top half once again. I hadn’t worn my spikes since the Northerns last year but during my warm up jog they felt very uncomfortable – a bit small and I felt twinges of pain in my feet. Fortunately, I had a pair of light trail shoes with me, so I quickly changed and decided to race in them. It was a good decision.
The senior men’s race was billed as 12K (it was actually a little longer). Normal cross-country wisdom dictates that one should set off like a scalded cat, establish a position in the field and then try to defend it by not fading too badly. This is fine, but it makes for a very hard race and if you get it wrong you can be rather humiliated during the final mile by losing many places.
Because the Pontefract course is quite roomy and knowing that I am not in very good cross-country form, I thought I would try to pace it evenly. On the first of the three laps, I wanted to it to feel comfortable, on the second I wanted to be working hard and moving through and on the final lap just give it whatever was left.
It was still congested for the first mile which I managed to cover in 6:14 (it was a bit downhill). I felt good, I thought I was running well with reasonable form and my heart rate was in the mid 150s, about right for hard racing.
I executed my race pretty much according to my plan, maintaining an even effort and moving up through the field. My subsequent mile splits were 6:30, 6:40, 6:28 then an uphill 6:55, to take me into the final lap. I sat in a little group of three for a few minutes and then I realised I was coasting a bit, so I pulled out and kicked on with a 6:22 6th mile.
I was having a yo-yo race with a lad from Denby Dale and we raced up the final drag towards the finishing straight.
At the top of the hill was the worst patch of mud on the whole course, the only place that my shoe choice made for a significant disadvantage. The table tennis bat pimples on my shoes afforded about as much grip as a curling stone gets on the ice. I veered off wide searching for traction, conceding about ten metres to the Denby runner and the others in my little group.
As we entered the finishing straight with about a furlong to go, I opened up my sprint to surge ahead of most of those that had passed me in the mud; however, the Denby lad wasn’t giving up easily and I felt him alongside with 50 metres to go. It was one of those finishing sprints that simply came down to will power, both of us were all out, matching strides and giving it everything.
I just managed to take it with a lunge at the line. I slumped over the barriers for a couple of minutes, chest heaving and wondering if would be able to avoid a chunder (thankfully I did).
All this effort got me a placing of 364th in a field of 704, so nowhere near the top half. It was a mediocre result, but I think that I raced it well. I delivered my effort evenly and hammered the last ten minutes. In races, you can only control your effort, the result is whatever the result is.
I was again the first irrelevant runner for my Valley Striders team, finishing 7th counter (six counted).
I was probably a bit tired after a heavy mileage week, over 66 this week and my weight is back down below 11 stones, pretty much ‘racing weight’ for me.
I’ll step the mileage down again this week, hopefully I’ll be fresh for the Dewsbury 10K next Sunday.
LM -13 weeks
10 stone 12.8 lbs
66.6 miles, longest run 13.3 miles
Parkrun : Roundhay 41:59 (419th)
Aerobic efficiency on long run – 1,068 beats per mile
RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (unchanged)