National Cross Country – Wollaton Park
After a couple of years of awful conditions at National Cross Countries – I still have horror filled flashbacks to Sunderland in February 2013, and the frozen mud-ice fest – the National 2014 at Wollaton Park in Nottingham was a welcome change to sunny bright, and definitely less muddy conditions!
Over the previous years I’ve felt I’ve maybe underperformed slightly at the National. It often requires quite a long journey (Sunderland and Leeds in recently), which means you get to the race a bit stiff, and often tired, particularly if you’ve been driving. This year however with a chauffeur in the guise of Andy Baker, and seemingly the first day of nice weather on a weekend for months, I was feeling pretty good in the few hours leading up to the race.
There is always an atmosphere at the nationals which is a bit different to any other race. bizarrely it feels a little bit more like a music festival than a cross country race. There are literally hundreds of teams competing, and thousands of runners. Reports from the race said that nearly 5,000 people raced on the day with as many again made up of coaches, team managers and spectator. Add to this all the team flags and tents, burger vans and Italian coffee vendors, and you get a huge amount of bustle, excitement and atmosphere.
As we arrived at Wollaton Park with a few hours to kill before the start of the senior men’s race, it was a good opportunity to check out the course and watch some of the other races. I also took a few photos, the best of which can be seen in the gallery page on the website. Watching the junior and women’s races from the sidelines it was easy to forget that in less than an hour I would be hammering along the course, out of breath a jostling for position.
The start of the national is pretty special. As the teams gather at the allotted pens you can feel the tension and the excitement building, plenty of chatter, people jumping and down and slapping each other on the back. Then this whistle goes, quiet descends and everyone shuffles forward. Then bang, the gun goes off and everyone’s flying towards the first hill, corner or bog; usually far too quick!
I opted to start this one relatively steady. With a decent climb to get us started I wanted to try and keep tabs on two of my team mates Nathan and I, as I felt I should be amongst them by the time we got round to the business end of the race. Having completed the Southern’s about four weeks before with its 3 laps and 9 miles of Parliament Hill, I felt more prepared for the 7.5 miles that this race was going to throw at us.
The course was fantastic and had everything. Punctuated with flat smooth parkland, tussocky undulating longer grass, a section of thick mud, and then what can only be described as a marshy ditch, it gave plenty of opportunity for overtaking- and being overtaken! –There were even a couple of really beautiful sections for those that had a moment to have a look, including an iconic run up to the edge Wollaton Hall itself.
The second lap felt pretty tough. I had been in a pretty good rhythm for the first, and I suppose subconsciously this gave me some impetus to crack on. I could see Nathan getting away ahead of me, and I reckon I just pushed that little bit too hard to keep him in touching distance. I settled back a little, trying to draw as much advantage out of the course as possible, trying to pick the best lines on some of the corner s and through the mud, and successfully avoiding going waist dip in the marsh!
Starting the third and final lap however I carried quite a bit of momentum of the descent, and managed to overtake T. This gave me a fair amount of confidence and I could feel myself gradually moving up the field. I felt stronger as the lap progressed, and although on the final downhill section to the finish, I couldn’t really give any more to overtake in the customary GGAC style. Overall I was pretty happy with my performance though, the race and in fact the whole day, had been absolutely brilliant.
So how did I feel I performed this year then? Well, I finished 646th, or for the stattos out there, 34% through the field. Not bad compared to just under 50% last year. I you haven’t ever run the National before, do your very best to give it a go, it’s a unique race!