Cross country has been a focus of my racing diary since I started competing again back in 2012. The months between September and February/March tend to be my most consistent in terms of both training and racing.
Critically this time round, the 2018/19 season, I am aiming to have not only a good XC season but to use it as a spring board to fast times and PBs on the road (and track!) next Spring/Summer.
The last few years haven’t quite gone to plan and 2017/18 was a particularly trying time what with the cracked rib in November and the groin injury in February. So I’m extremely keen to nail the traditional strength and endurance build up through the XC season and translate it to lifetime bests in the classic road distances of 5 and 10k. I’d also like a fast mile on the track.
Unfortunately I missed the two opening NEHL fixtures this season – the first due to a head cold and deciding not to risk it with the Northern 6 stage relays coming the following week in Manchester and the second happily skipped as the fixture came the day after our trip to Birmingham for the National 6 stage relays final.
So my anticipation for the 3rd fixture was pretty high and the plan is to compete in all 4 remaining fixtures to ensure a finishing position in the Individual Grand Prix for Senior Men. I’m also hoping to help Tyne Bridge Harriers in our Division 1 endeavours although at the moment there are plenty of lads picking out the 6 counter spots from the Slow and Medium pack so I wasn’t necessarily expecting to count for the team at Gosforth Park.
Training has been going well. For personal reasons I’ll not expand upon here I’ve had some extra time to devote to increased training and I’ve been able to get the weekly mileage above 50 miles albeit only 1 week preceding this XC fixture. The key will be consistency and I’m expecting another 50+ mileage week this week as well.
I also had chance to travel back down to Doncaster to see Dave Tune. The trip was worthwhile to just get that little bit of focus to my training. As I do the majority of my training alone (personal choice) it’s always good to get a second pair of eyes on things and bounce some ideas off someone as experienced as Dave.
Luckily I survived a nasty fall off the treadmill but the skin taken off my right knee and elbow have taken some time to heel. That said it’ll take more than that to stop me now. One of the positives of the recent injuries I’ve overcome has been to instill some more basic grit and determination that maybe wasn’t there before.
I know I’m not lacking in speed but I am lacking in strength and endurance. A big feature of the training menu over the coming weeks will be simple bread and butter threshold work. And increasing the time I can work in that zone. Although my LT heart rate has come down somewhat, perhaps suggesting a stronger heart, the pace is fairly similar to my test in October 2017. So I have some focus to work on.
Arriving at Gosforth Park I was looking to get a good 15 minute warm up in good time before the start. The rain and snow(!) from earlier had given way to bright sun but the wind seemed to be picking up.
The key decision on footwear had already been made and it was spikes for me and I didn’t regret that choice. In fact, I’d decided last season at Thornley Hall that I would never wear trail shoes for XC again. Reason being I felt liked I’d carried half the course round with me on the bottom of my shoes!
Spikes just feel faster full stop.
The grounds and course setup were perfect at Gosforth Park with all facilities in place. Its important to relax and not get stressed about silly things like parking and toilets etc but all that was taken care of and I was able to pick up my race number and get a 15 minute easy jog in on a road leading up a hill to the outside perimeter of the grounds.
I felt in a good place mentally. I’ve been reading a lot and also watching as many running documentaries as I could get my hands on. I’ve really enjoyed the Team Ingebrigtsen series (even without English subtitles!) and I also found some classic 80s race footage of the Gaymers 10km series from 1985. Finally I also discovered a Joss Naylor documentary covering his 60th birthday “present” to himself of 60 peak summits in 36hrs! The latter being particular inspiration for the XC. I would tell myself to “remember Joss” whenever it got tough!
I suppose I’ve learned to not expect to feel that good physically during a warm up. The mental part is key and to resolve to give 100% of what you have on the day. That said the legs did feel good and I was up for it. Another key decision I’d made was to leave the Garmin at home. I’ve decided it’s a training tool and not a racing tool, especially for XC. Again, watching Joss Naylor “at one with nature” influenced this but also talents like Julien Wanders who always races without a watch. Let the brain and body guide you and don’t be distracted by metrics that don’t really matter.
Getting on the start line it was noticeable that the Fast pack was quite big and generally the fixture was very well attended. This was confirmed as there were over 600 runners overall.
I wanted to start strongly and get into a good rhythm early. I didn’t know the course so the first lap was a chance to learn the best racing line, find out where particularly claggy areas were to be avoided and generally get set for a tough 2nd and 3rd lap.
As always the Fast pack went hard from the off and I probably settled in just ahead of mid div. The first couple of hundreds metres were gravelly but still good to run on in spikes. The course then headed up into a wooded area which I found to be the fastest section. I felt strong here on every lap and there was space wide to get past slow packers later in the race.
There was a water logged part coming out of the woods with a sharp left hander but once the initial shock of the first foot soaking was over it didn’t present any problems other than a bit of congestion on the 2nd and 3rd laps.
The course had maybe 2 or 3 inclines per lap but nothing you could really call a hill and that suited my style. The inclines were no tougher than what I would train on around Kenton Dene. I was cautious to keep my effort steady up the inclines and I noticed this led to me losing some ground on a couple of the Fast pack lads I wanted to compete with. On the second lap I was able to make up lost ground through the woods but on the third lap they were gone. This is my only slight disappointment from the run.
What was pleasing overall was that I had very few negative thoughts running through my mind. Usually I will be combating many. As my legs started to weaken on the third lap there were moments where perhaps I was losing a bit of momentum but “the engine” felt good and there was definitely a feeling of more robust endurance.
I felt strong and competitive and it reminded me of my run at Aykley Heads last season. Given that run was in November I’m happy that I’m feeling in good shape in late October.
Its very difficult to know where you are position wise as the end draws near. The great thing about the handicap pack system is that you always have runners to aim for. I did feel like the rate at which I was overtaking runners reduced in the last half of the last lap but there was still a number of scalps to take on the finishing straight.
Unfortunately I wasn’t quite able to muster up an all out sprint this time but again I took this to be a positive as I felt like I’d applied myself much more evenly throughout the whole race.
Overall I’d finished 143rd out of 623 runners. I think I was around 33rd quickest in the field (if the race was a scratch start) and 4th Vet 35-39. As I mentioned earlier this is very comparable with my previous best performance at Aykley Heads last season.
Critically though I’m 12mths older and wiser. As I sit and type this on Sunday I remember well that after my best ever performance at Aykley Heads I went out on Town Moor and tripped on the metal spike that led to the cracked rib.
So as I embark on my Long Run today I’ll definitely be sticking to the roads and keeping my concentration on my footing high!
Thanks for reading!
Pic credit – taken from a video by George Routledge