National XC Championship

  • I’m stopping after this lap

  • I’ll stop when I get past this crowd on the home straight

  • should I fake an injury, or just say I fucked it off?  if I fake injury will I have to miss a few training sessions to keep up the pretence?

  • ohh that guy’s pulled out … if it’s ok for him to stop surely I can

  • I’m going to stop eating shite at work and do more training

  • Why am I singing ‘Say hello and wave goodbye’ over and over in my head?

  • Fuck Cambridge half marathon next week

  • Fuck all races

This was all before I’d completed the first lap … i still had another lap to do.. Oh dear

On Saturday I took park in the National XC Championships @ Harewood House in Leeds. That’s NATIONAL, so clearly there was going to be the best in the country taking part and clearly that isn’t me but any affiliated club is able to enter a team so that’s what we did. I decided back in November, just after I’d finished marathon training and I was running better than ever, that I’d put my name down for it. That wouldn’t have been so bad but I haven’t been able to run in any of this seasons XC and there’s an awful lot of time/cold weather/food consumption between November and February to distract one from training so I knew this was going to be a tough run. Even so, I had no plans to cancel. The club were paying, we were a team of 13 … our coach had put the entries in and if nothing else it’d be a good training run. Not to mention the experience of taking part in a national event. Around 8000 runners were expected over all disciplines. The senior men’s race, in which over 2000 ran, consisted of 2 laps of just over 3.6 miles each. The weather was really on our side. I expected mud, sleet, wind, rain when I signed up but we had glorious spring-like sunshine 😊

Getting in to Harewood house was a bit of a ball-ache. We travelled in two cars with me driving mine. We used different entrances to the event and the other car got in ok but we ended up joining a 2 mile queue to get in. At 1.15pm it looked like it would take us at least 40 mins to get to the entrance. The senior men’s race started at 3pm so we were ok but Harry was in my car and he was running in the junior race which started at 2.20pm so after a bit of flapping he decided to make a run for it to make sure he didn’t miss his race. It was just after 2pm when we got in and parked. We headed to the tent area and found our club flag and tent.

If you can call it a tent! Its enough to store bags so it does the job

After getting changed and pinning my number on i ate my bagel, had a quick wee and headed over to the start line. I’m guessing here but if you’ve never seen it, the start line must be about 150m wide, 7/8 runners deep right across it.  It’s like a frontline (I’d imagine it is – the only Frontline I’ve seen is from the vets). We (my club) were in pen 175 somewhere near the middle.

My approach to this event: don’t get carried away.. there’s over 7 miles to run and there’s going to be hills.  Pace it well, don’t burn out on lap 1. Make a good training run out of it and enjoy the atmosphere.
Turns out I was completely deceiving one self with that approach 😂

If you’ve ran in a race like this, all that goes to shit as soon as the gun goes off. There was over 2000 runners on the start line .. the gun goes off and we all go charging up the hill like chavs after cheap TV’s on Black Friday … elbows everywhere … people behind catching your feet … it’s impossible to stick to a pace that you had hoped to. Once around the bottleneck at the top of the hill you’re still crowded in and being dragged along … half a mile in on a flatter section I checked my watch and tried to ignore the fact I was pegging along at 6:30/mi pace with no other option than to keep going.

As the field started to find it’s place, people started easing off and those caught up at the back started making their way forward. Time for me to find a slower pace and try to settle in. Turns out, ‘settling in’ wasn’t going to be an option after all. It became apparent 3 miles in that i was goosed! My legs felt like lead and I lost my head completely. All those thoughts above started creeping in and i was really struggling. As i came back past the crowd to start lap 2 all i wanted to do was quit and whilst I’ve had low moments in other races i’ve always stuck them out. I can hand on heart say that I have never been so close to throwing the towel in as i was on this run. Ok maybe I hadn’t eaten enough and i know I hadn’t trained enough but it’s not like i turned up and ran it on the back of no running. It’s quite scary really looking back on it just how poor my frame of mind was.

I will say that the course and the crowd were fantastic. A wide, grassy, undulating track winding around the grounds of Harewood House. Spectators set up all around the course. From the furthest point on the course you could hear them cheering people crossing though the main race area. It was a wonderful atmosphere. Shame i was just too knackered to appreciate it.

I know i would have immediately regretted pulling out and that thought kept me moving. I eventually reached a point in the second lap where I thought ‘ 15 minutes ago I’d have given my left arm to be at this point’ so I had a word with myself, put my head down and got on with it. My mile splits really do show a race of two halves. I lost quite a bit of time on miles 4-6 but better that then having dropped out i guess.

On the last (and for me, hardest) uphill section I managed to pick a few people off but I was barely moving by the time I got to the top and turned for the finish line. I had to give the legs a few seconds to sort themselves out before I managed a final sprint (as much as i could muster) down the home straight where I managed to make up a few more numbers. Finished! I can stop running and I haven’t vomited! I stopped my watch and sank to my knees quickly followed by another guy directly behind me. We both assured the medical lady we were ok and I dragged myself back to onto my feet to go and find my club mates.

Back at the tent we got changed and packed our gear together. It was great to hear about everybody else’s run and i was so relived that I hadn’t bailed out. I’d finished within the hour but I know I could run that course at least 5 minutes quicker. Next time then.

After a team photo (I’m far left) we headed back to the car where i shared some bottles of Yazoo out … that turned out to be a let down though as it was no added sugar Yazoo that I’d bought as a six pack. I had no idea they sold it but I won’t be buying that again. Terrible stuff!

You can imagine with so many people wanting to leave at the same time it took us an hour to get out of the grounds and another hours drive home.

Would i do it again next year given the opportunity? Yes. Absolutely.
Yes i had a nightmare run and yes i have only myself to blame for not putting the training in but what a great event and I’d recommend it to anybody to do it at least once to experience it. You’ll enjoy it more though if you’re better prepared for it.




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