North Staffs Cross Country 2 - Park Hall, Stoke

Since the race last weekend I've done next to no training again during the week. I wanted to make sure my legs have recovered properly from the RAB Mountain Marathon and the Cross Country. I was intending to do a couple of short runs on Tuesday and Thursday but due to laziness it didn't materialise. I ended up doing a 3.5 mile fast run at 6.30 min mile pace on Wednesday though just to keep things ticking over.

The second cross country race of the season was held today at Park Hall Country Park in Stoke. The last time I ran there was about 4 years ago and never particularly liked the course, usually finishing around 100-110th position. The course had changed slightly this time, mainly by extending the length of the lap so we only had to go round twice. Its very up and down with relatively little flat and a few extended climbs on each lap. Its also quite twisty in a number of places so you cant always see that far in front of you. The weather was pretty good, about 15 degrees with occasional fine drizzle that wasn't noticeable. Most of the lap is either on stony ground or firm grassy patches with the odd sandy area thrown in.

As I finished 35th last week I started just behind the front and went off at a reasonable but comfortable pace as I wanted to avoid the significant bottlenecks in the first few bends. My plan was to take the first third of the lap easy as this was where the worst of the hills were. I ended up getting overtaken by what felt like a lot of people. After this was over we hit a flat section near the start area about 6 mins into the race. I was intending to keep going at a comfortable pace and hold something in reserve for later. The problem was that I was still getting overtaken by more people on the flat section so decided the best thing to do was tag on before too much ground was lost.

In the second half of the first lap I began to open up my legs a bit and began to overtake quite a few people. Quite often on the hills I would gain ground quite quickly before holding my position on the flat section. There were a few groups of 7-8 people and I tried to tag on to one of them although I found the pace uncomfortably fast. I still felt this was the best thing to do so I could be dragged along. With about 1/3rd of the lap left one of the Walton Chasers supporting us shouted my position and told me I was 35th. I had secretly hoped that I was doing a bit better than this and it acted as the spur for me to keep pushing. It was a bit of a risky strategy as I was already fairly knackered. At this stage I was just off the back of the group of runners, but slowly and surely I managed to gain a bit of ground and overtake them one by one before finding myself at the front. Just before the end of the first lap I dropped them and was in around 30th place.

I was well knackered by this stage and if I am to be honest had someone offered me to finish in 30th position I would have snapped their hands off as I wasn't sure I could keep the pace. In the second lap there were small groups of runners a fair distance apart from each other. In the early part of the lap I managed to tag along the back with a couple of other runners but didn't quite have the legs to overtake them. We hit the steep hill that took us back to the start and I had managed to catch up a small gap from them but back on the flat and the downhill they pulled about 10-15 metres ahead of me. However the three of us were clearly running well as we caught up the next group ahead of us and I managed to overtake another 2-3 runners about half way into the lap.

I had a quick glance back around half way through the second lap and was surprised to find the next runner about 60 metres behind me and must admit the thought had occurred to me to ease off the gas as I was really hurting. Somehow I managed to recatch up the runners that left me earlier in the lap but couldn't overtake them and ended up running just behind for a while. With about 1/3rd of the lap to go we hit a series of short and sharp climbs and I managed to overtake and drop them, god knows how as I had little left in the tank. In the process of the three of us running well we caught up one more group of runners that were strung out a bit and managed to overtake a couple of them. The other runners in the strung out group were just too far ahead for me to do anything about plus on the flat I was beginning to tire. With about 500 metres to go I got re-overtaken by one of the runners who I had been running just behind for best part of a lap. He quickly built up a gap of 10 metres and was pulling away which I couldn't do anything about. As luck would have it he made a wrong turn and I followed before quickly realising and cutting across to the correct path - a strange way to gain a place! There was just a very sharp climb to the finish with people closing on me so I made an extra special effort up the hill and managed to keep my position easily. In the process I was rapidly catching a runner who was some distance ahead of me at the bottom of the hill but he just about held me off by a metre at the finish.

I got my tag and knew that I must have been in the top thirty but was very happy to see that I finished 25th! Again another career best performance by some margin! I probably ran about a minute quicker than the previous week and was loads quicker when compared to when I ran here in 2003 and finished around 100-110th.

I was very pleased with how I judged my run and although I ran harder than I wanted to early on it was definitely the best thing to do. Mike Barnby finished in 79th, getting the better of Iain Stamp in 81st and Ian Turner just behind in 82nd. The team score was 267 which is another great performance. It turns out that last week the team ended up second, not third as I reported as another team had their score amended. This puts us in the second promotion spot though I doubt we will hold onto it after this race, not because we had bad runs but there were several rival teams that seemed to be fielding stronger squads. We'll see where the team lies in a couple of days and will edit the blog accordingly.

The third race of the season is on the 10th November at Stafford Common though its not a race where I expect to do that well in as there isnt enough climb in it for me to pick people off. If I can just have a solid performance I'll be happy. In the meantime my next event is the OMM Mountain Marathon in two weeks time which is what I have been building up to all year. I will try and put in a 30-40 mile week before easing off in the week leading up to the event.


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