“I thought you’d given up cross-country” everyone was saying to me. Well, so I had. But having announced my retirement from cross-country two years ago I now find myself having done two within eight days! So how did that happen?! I’m not sure, but I guess it’s difficult to really stay away from something that’s been so much a part of my running since the age of 15! Cross-country was, for many years, the backbone of my running, giving me strength through the winter months to carry through to the summer track season. And cross-country was where I gained my first international honours. In recent years, however, I’d started enjoying it less, finding the distance too short and the uneven terrain less suited to my road running style. I questioned why I was continuing to do something I no longer enjoyed. I must admit, though, that I have quite enjoyed my two recent races – pure racing, with no watch and split times to think about. Both these races were on new courses, which also helped to make them more interesting and appealing.
The first race was the Warwickshire County Cross-country Championships at Newbold Revel, which my coach, Les, persuaded me to enter to help my club’s Masters team. I don’t think either of us really expected that I would be in the scoring three runners; that would be a very tall order with several really good runners in our Leamington C&AC club. The aim was to race as hard as I could and back the team up by perhaps pushing other teams down a place. Don’t get me wrong, I desperately wanted to make the scoring three, but knew it would be a very big ask.
The course was great, with lots of variety – parkland, farmland, a section through woodland, one uphill followed by a downhill section and a short run in to the finish. I was a bit apprehensive pulling on my Mizuno spikes as I hadn’t worn them for two years, but once I got going they felt like slippers and it was great to be wearing such lightweight shoes again. Luckily for me the conditions underfoot were good – only one really muddy bit and much of it fairly firm going.
I ran hard, although my recent lack of hill training told when I lost a few places going up the hill. However, I felt I’d barely got going before I found myself running into the finish funnel – 6km is far too short for me these days! Unfortunately I was pipped by a couple of people on the run-in, which I was really frustrated about as in the past I’d always had a strong finish. But a lack of speed work and my ultra-running ‘shuffle’ put paid to any sprint finish! However, I was over the moon to find that I had just managed to scrape third scorer for the club after all and, even better, that we won team gold – my 26th Warwickshire cross-country champs medal! So proud of all my team mates for their great efforts.
The county champs was originally going to be my only cross-country race of the season, but I’d enjoyed it so much that I decided to help the team out again in the Midland Women’s League race the following weekend. I must admit I was also rather attracted by the course – another new one – at Burton Dassett Hills Country Park. This is somewhere I love and have visited many times over the years: kite flying and sledging as a child and more recently to watch the women’s cycle tour contest the ‘Queen of the Mountains’ jersey, which gives an idea of just how hilly it is! I knew the course would be tough, but I had this strange inexplicable desire to run there!
Walking the course beforehand, though, I started to regret my decision and wondered what I’d let myself in for. I knew it would be hilly, but the course was also quite technical with some steep downhill parts (I’m not good at downhill running!), some tight twists and turns and parts on a camber around the side of hills which wasn’t great on the legs and ankles! I’d also forgotten how windy it can get up there! The race consisted of two laps and I was quite cautious in places on the first lap, although there were some parts that I found I could run reasonably well on. I felt I was beginning to get into my running and get a feel for the course on the second lap, when all of a sudden I found myself flat on my face in the grass! Of course this was on the least technical part of the course! I think I had a momentary lapse of concentration and my spikes caught a tuft of rough grass, and before I knew it I was flying through the air and hitting the ground. Luckily I’d avoided landing in the sheep poo and I wasn’t hurt, so bounced back up and continued. It gave me a bit of shock though and knocked my confidence on the steep ascent and descent that followed. I then started to get back into my running again, but by then it was too late as we came round the final section towards the finish. At least this time I managed to hold off a runner who was close behind me and, again, was third scorer for our Masters team, meaning we took the team honours on the day. In 133 cross-country races over 32 years of running this was one of the toughest courses I’ve done, but in a funny sort of way I really enjoyed it! I think the appeal was the novelty of a different course and a chance to race in a place I know and love. I also love the team spirit that goes with cross-country – we have a great team at Leamington C&AC and everyone is so supportive of one another.
And so that’s how I seem to have made a cross-country come-back, although my first love is still on the roads. It’s also great just to be racing again. I train to race – yes, I enjoy running for many reasons, but the real buzz I get is from racing. Training and racing ultras has taken its toll on my body and has meant I’ve done fewer races than I’d have liked over the last few years. I did, however, manage to finish 2018 on the same note as I started – with a 10k at Draycote Water. Just like the race in February there was a strong wind blowing across the reservoir, which is very exposed. As this was my first race after competing for Great Britain in the World 100km Champs. in September I had no idea how it would go. I’d struggled with tight hamstrings and calves for a while after the 100km which had restricted the amount of speedwork I could do. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find I was around a minute quicker than my time from February.
|A windy 10k at Draycote Water|
And so 2018 ended and 2019 has begun. As ever, I’d like to say a massive thank you to Mizuno for their continued support. Their shoes are second to none and carried me through all of my 2,300+ miles last year. Also, thank you to The Warwickshire for their continued support through the use of their fantastic gym facility, which is invaluable for my training. And last, but by no means least, a huge thank you to my coach, Les, who, as ever, has been by my side throughout, has shared the ‘ups’ and helped me through the ‘downs’. It remains to be seen what this year has in store, so watch this space!