I have run the Reigate Priory cross country I think twice before. On both the previous occasions, I have had a pretty torrid time. A few years ago it was the third match of the season and was held on about the 3rd or 4th January – the mince pies probably took a greater toll than even in last week’s county Championships (see my last post here). I therefore approached the third 2XU Surrey Men’s league match on the 14th of January 2012 with some trepidation. Still it was quite a fine and crisp afternoon, and having had a lighter week than the first week of the year I felt relatively fresh and up for it.
Because of a few injuries and holidays GGAC didn’t have it’s strongest team for this fixture but everyone at the pre race camp seemed pretty determined to put in a strong performance. A few of the guys were pretty buoyed up after Denbies the week before, and whilst we couldn’t call a team of 12 a ‘sea of green’, it felt good to have a pack of familiar races ready to tackle the Priory hill.
The Reigate Priory course starts in the middle of a pretty bustling park, with football matches, tennis coaching and lots of other activities happening. I think this gives a slightly busy and chaotic start to proceedings, which actually gave me a bit of extra vigour as we queued up.
Unlike a few of the other courses around the county, the bigger open space affords quite a wide starting track and this meant the crowd started thinning out pretty quickly. We quickly ascended to the treeline you can see in the image above, following it round to the left (not an image of the day itself…) and then right onto the gravelly, sticky uphill path that we knew was coming at back of the park.
Except after turning the corner, to my surprise we found ourselves climbing the priory hill on some pretty freshly laid tarmac! I wouldn’t exactly call my self a cross country snob, but I do enjoy a good bit of mud, some challenging terrain and some decent hills. About 500m of tarmac-ed path felt a bit too sanitised an un-cross country like for me. Where was the elbows out jostling over dodgy ground with no grip that we’ve all come to expect? Mind you, despite this pretty purist view and unlike some who dismissed using the path on moral grounds, or more probably because they were wearing spikes, I opted to make use of the path rather than fumble over the less forgiving surface on either side.
During these early stages I felt I was pushing pretty hard and at about 2km the high point of the course came with surprising speed; the views from the top of the one are fantastic :
Coming down from the hill also had its moments. In wetter and muddier races this has been quite a technical descent, but with relatively little rain it was only a little sticky, giving excellent grip for the fell shoes. I caught up with fellow GGACer Rob Myring at this point. Rob is a very good 800m runner, but can hold his own on cross countries of this distance (about 5 miles) and we always have a bit of a tussle. I managed to make up a few places, including getting in front of Rob, on the down hill stretch before the rather suburban feeling loop round the bottom of the park.
At the uphill start of the second lap I was beginning to wonder if I hadn’t hit the first lap a bit hard. A few of those I thought I had left in my wake a minute or so coming own the hill seemed to be crowding behind me at the bottom of the tarmac path. I think I used to be much better at digging in and working hard in situations like this; when I was younger I’m sure I took a far more dogmatic approach. For some reason in this race I really did decide to hold and fight for my position. The mind games you play with yourself when your racing are incredible! I had had a pretty long and tough week and I suppose I was using this race as a bit of release from that, or perhaps I was using the race to try and demonstrate success in difficulty.
Anyway, what this meant in race terms was that I think I managed to hold my position solidly throughout the second lap, and fire up for a strong finish, overtaking a couple of runners in the final few hundred metres.
Everyone who turned out for GGAC in this race had a strong determined finish. No-one was overtaken over the final part of the course, and almost everyone managed to pick up one or two places nearing the line. Unfortunately though, a lack of strength in depth, left us languishing in stone last, 9th place. The result leaves us in 6th place going into the final race of the season at West End near Esher on the 11th February.
Any thoughts on the Reigate course? Does the newly tarmaced section ruin it? Or do we just need to get on with what’s put in front of us? I’ve always thought that attitude and mental state when doing a race or training session is hugely important. How much do you think it can affect your performance? Do only the best athletes, the winners, actually manage to conquer this?