Warwickshire Cross Country Championships - Newbold Comyn, Leamington

Since the fell race on New Years Day I've managed to pull a muscle in my calf which has resulted in doing very little mileage and a lot of icing.  At one point it was touch and go whether I would be able to race the Warwickshire County Championships.  After lots of icing it was just about acceptable to run on although remained a worry right up to the start of the race.

I haven't done a cross country race for a long time, last one would have been the North Staffordshire League in 2008.  I entered this race as I felt my fitness was there or thereabouts and whilst I knew I would be nowhere in terms of being in contention for a top 3 finish, I thought that there was an outside chance of a reasonable overall position.  Only the top three are guaranteed automatic qualification to represent Warwickshire in the Inter County Championships with the remaining 6 positions being down to captain selection.  Therefore a top 9 overall position means that at the very least you have to be considered.  There was also medals for the 'Masters' category which is for the Over 35's.  Whilst I had no expectations when I entered in early December, my time at the Wheaton Aston 10k suggested I would have a chance of medalling.

The first issue was that the spikes I got over Christmas were too big so I knew this would be a big disadvantage.  Unfortunately I left it too late to do anything about it so decided to wear my Inov8 Mudclaws which in terms of grip are similar to spikes but also meant the shoe absorbs the mud much more - little did I realise how much mud would stick to the shoes during the race.

At the start I tried to go at a reasonable, yet easy enough pace and after the first few hundred metres I was probably about 18th.  Over the course of the first km I settled into my race pace and eventually moved up a little.  I knew it was muddy from walking bits of the course earlier but this was unreal - really claggy mud that just stuck to your feet.  It was difficult to get any decent pace going and it was really strength sapping.  Half the time I was just concentrating on not slipping and the rest of the time it was a case of trying to take the best line and get some respite where possible.

Waiting at the start

We got to the one and only hill on the first of three laps and even as a fell runner I was surprised to lose some time up the climb.  On the way back down I lost a few seconds - some things don't change!

After the first lap I was told that I was 10th which surprised me as I thought I was a few positions further back.  However, I didn't feel great to be honest, I just felt that there wasn't much energy in my legs for some reason, but perhaps it was the same for everyone else in the sticky mud.  On the positive I was almost in the top 9 and in contention.

By myself early on in the race - what is it with me and having no runners around!?  Blur is the camera and not my leg speed!  Believe it or not this wasn't a muddy section!

During the second lap I started to lose contention with the two runners I was with and I started to go backwards a little and at one point I think I fell back to 12th.  At the same time there were a couple of runners falling away ahead of me and I regained another position so was now 9th.  To be honest I was feeling worse and was really regretting not wearing spikes.  The only exception to this was a small section where I had the option of running on a tarmac path for about 50 metres, whilst those running in spikes had to stick to the mud.

Another blurry shot.

The final lap was very much a case of trying to hang on.  The two runners ahead of me were pulling away even further and were about 15 seconds ahead.  When runners ahead pull away it often means that those behind are catching you.  I could never really tell how far behind me the next runners were but I could always sense that they were close, but more importantly shortening the gap.  With a few hundred metres to go I could see the next runner was about 20 metres away and closing fast, but I had it in control and only felt I had to put on a mini sprint with about 40 metres left.

Just in the finishing straight - in control from those chasing behind.

I finished 9th, about 20 seconds away from 8th and 3 seconds ahead of a couple of runners behind me.  In a way I felt like I should be disappointed as I was always struggling - maybe I was but then again maybe it was the mud just sapping the energy from my legs and it was the same for everyone else.  Finishing 9th is a fairly symbolic position as 9 runners are selected to represent the county so I should at the very least be considered for the inter-counties.  In reality I think I have a very slim chance for the following reasons:
  • Being completely unknown
  • Running for a Fell Running Club that few will have heard of
  • Being an Over 35 'Masters'
  • Not competing in the Birmingham Cross Country League
On the plus side I knew that if I was 9th I had a good chance of being in the top 3 for the 'Masters' category.  I knew I would not be the winner as I recognised one of the runners ahead of me.  Sure enough it was announced that I was second Master and so got a trophy!  Result!

2nd Master!

My calf is very sore again and I'm fearing this is going to be the norm from now on.  It used to give me trouble back in 2008 and it seems to be the same issue again now.  I may try to get a massage to see whether I can keep the niggles at bay.

I don't have any events planned until April where I have entered the Manchester Marathon.  I will probably try and do a half marathon some point in late February or early March which will hopefully give me an idea where my fitness is.


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