North Staffs Cross Country - Race 1, Newcastle

During the week my legs were extremely stiff as the after effect from the RAB Mountain Marathon. On Monday and Tuesday it was extremely difficult to walk down stairs and even getting in and out of my chair at work became a bit of an operation. By Wednesday some of the stiffness began to recede and on Thursday my legs were back to normal although I could feel that they were drained of energy. As a result I did not even attempt to do any training prior to the cross country race today.

Today was the first cross country race of the season, held at a new location in Newcastle (Staffs). The conditions were near perfect, about 15 degrees with no wind and ground conditions were dry. The course was mainly flat except about two thirds around the lap where there is a steep ascent before dropping sharply back down quickly followed by an even steeper ascent shortly after. It was a bit of a strange course as there were plenty of tarmac paths to take advantage of. For the men's race it was 9.9km comprising of three large laps.

Unusually Walton Chasers had a full team out (seven runners with four counters required) and arguably our strongest since we began doing cross country. When warming up I could tell that my legs were still very drained from the weekend so I was a bit unsure how I was going to fare. In any event I decided to take the first lap easy and decide from there.

I had a reasonable start and took it easy, but even so I was surprisingly near to the front. I eased off the gas and quite a lot of people overtook me in the first half of the lap. At this point I was feeling ok and decided to continue at much the same pace. I guessed that I was around 75th at this point. We then came to the first hill which was a bit of a surprise how sharp it was as I was new to this course. As usual I overtook a few people on the ascent before a very steep descent back down. Coming towards the end of the first lap my lungs felt fine but my legs felt fairly dead and so was difficult to judge how to run. I was surprised to see Iain Stamp and Mike Barnby not too far behind and if my legs hit the wall I knew would have difficulty staying in front of them.

In the second lap I tried to run at much the same pace and managed to pick off a few runners, and as I caught someone I would try to take a breather behind them before making a conscious effort to overtake. I did this in the hilly sections in particular where I found it easier to catch people, before deciding just to tag along and overtake a bit later. After the second lap I had pulled further away from Mike and Iain, but still not as far as I had hoped. My lungs were still feeling fine and the legs still felt dead.

In the third and final lap someone tried to overtake me in the start of the lap so I used this as my cursor to push on (I was also mindful of Iain and Mike behind). Although we picked off a couple of runners ahead I couldn't shake him off until we reached the hills where I eventually dropped him. During this section I overtook a couple more people before the flat and very fast section back to the finish. I could sense people closing up on me behind so put on a bit of a sprint and managed to overtake one more person about 20 metres before the finish.

I then got my finishing tag and was amazed to find that I was 35th (out of 170) in a time of 38.45 and my best ever position! I clearly was not as far back as I had first imagined so not surprisingly I'm quite happy with my run. I do wonder what I could have done with a fresh set of legs, but I know that sometimes I'm like this. When I was running properly at the age of 13 I would often have two races in two days and would almost always come away with a better performance in the second race. Even so, I reckon that I could have possibly come in the top thirty. This now confirms that I'm a hell of a lot fitter than compared to a couple of years ago when I would often finish around the 90-105 positions.

Overall the team did fantastically with everyone coming away with best or near best finishes. Iain came back 2.30 behind me in 61st with Mike just a second or so behind in 62nd. I did see them in a couple of places and it looked like a good battle. Ian Turner had a very good run too in 72nd which gave us a team score of 230 points which is easily our best ever result - not bad for an Orienteering Club mixing it with the big athletic clubs! There were also solid performances by Dave Thomas in 119th and John Batchelor in 161st.

The second race is next week so there is not much time for recovery. I'll see how my legs feel but will probably aim to go for a couple of light runs during the week.


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