Cross country running provides a good training base for the year ahead combining offroad running with hills and mud and the strength, both physical and mental from coping with challenging conditions underfoot. In my opinion it is something that serious runners should be doing rather than purely sticking to road races You do not need to be obsessed with time taken to complete the course as conditions can vary so much and what can one year be firm, almost road like conditions can be a sloppy quagmire the next.
With that in mind it was a select few of us who made the journey to Bexhill for the Sussex XC championships on January 3rd. Usually the ladies have the advantage of racing before the men – getting their race out of the way AND competing when the ground is less churned except at the Sussex XC champs when the ladies race is the last of the day. Little Common was muddy when we ran the last League race in March 2014 but on 3 Jaunary 2015 it was in a league of its own in terms of muddiness. Torrential rain in the 24 hours beforehand and during the race plus a course cut up by many spiked feet left a mudfest underfoot.
The ladies had to do 4 miles (6400m) comprising three laps. I did a cursory recce which confirmed what I already knew – that it was MUDDY and otherwise stuck to the firmer ground on the other side for the road for a warm up.
Ten minutes before the race started Mary was yet to put her (or should I say Issy’s borrowed) spikes on – there is nothing like just in time racing for getting the adrenaline racing!
We lined up and watched the last of the men splash past then the gun went and we were off. The secret of success on a course like that is pacing and good choice of footwear (in my case long spikes taped on – thank you Julie Briggs). Within metres we hit gloopy ankle deep mud – there was no way round it and no point in fighting it – the best way to cope with it was to prance like a pony through the middle. The mud went from gloop to slidy mud then we hit the “hill” which was cut up except for a tiny margin up the outside so I ran wide to get the advantage of the firmer ground and to try to conserve energy for later on. There was a bit of firmer ground after than then more gloop, gloop and water etc. I was pleased to be overtaking people as the race went on and was able to get into a higher gear on the last lap which being round the perimeter of the Common was less churned and allowed you temporarily to pick up a bit of speed before you hit more ankle gloop. The run in to the finish harboured the sting in the tail of over the ankle mud so there was no chance of a sprint finish at that point and only a small bit of firm grass near the finish funnel.
Well done to Jim Risdale and Julian Hollingdale for the Arena men and Emily Proto, Chris Naylor, Julie Briggs, Emma Rollings and Mary Henderson for being brave enough to take on the challenge