For the regular readers I almost feel I should apologise for the sensible, unfunny, and almost ‘serious’ nature of this report. So sensible and factually accurate it’s even written in first person!
A few things come to mind when one thinks about Cross Country Racing at Newbold Comyn (aka Newbold Common); mainly the ‘ditch’/water crossing and Beacon Hill, but on top of that the course does get quite churned up and forms some quite muddy and sloppy sections – By modern standards it’s quite the XC course, and is about as close as we’ll ever get to XC ‘proper’ cross country from yonder years – at least it beats the mundane running around football pitches that forms many of the Birmingham League Division 1 fixtures (although part of the Newbold Comyn course is precisely that!).
McCarthy sidelined for this race, opting to err on the side of caution following his ankle flare up last weekend (from the Warwick XC Relays). With our target race just around the corner (one week today no less), it was a sensible move, and a tough one given the barrage of abuse and banter that’s typically given for missing an XC fixture. So it was I, señor Simkiss, left to fly the MCKEP flag in the Kenilworth Runners team, and truth be told – I was shitting myself.
So why all the nerves? I’m not quite sure. I think it’s the ‘nowhere to hide’ nature of XC – if you have a bad race it shows… and even if you have a ‘good’ race, you can still be beaten by those you should be ahead of if you don’t use the right tactics – there’s also usually all the local athletes there – you get the idea in the head of who you should beat and who’s likely to beat you. Referring to the previous comment though – it’s not like road running, where fitness and sensible pacing will always dictate the finish order; a slow start, or too quick a start can make/break a race especially with the amount of traffic on the course.
I went out with one plan in mind – start comfortable, wind it up to a good strong pace, and hold it… hopefully that would be enough. Of course I had my eyes on being first home for the club, but had no idea of the form of team mate Andrew Siggers after his recent sub 2:30 marathon success.
A deliberate positioning off the front of the field for the start turned out to be a slight balls up, but obviously also worked in my favour. In the opening stampede I found myself boxed in and working hard to make any progress through the field; by working hard I mean it was difficult to find space, the speed was quite comfortable, which was of course the intention, but after the first ‘small’ lap of the race it was becoming a little frustrating. It was nice to be working my way through the field quite comfortably, though on the second lap (a medium sized lap) I was slightly unnerved at how far down the field I was in relation to my clubmates – I wasn’t even sure I was in the top 6 counters! Nonetheless I continued to work my way through passing our clubmates, Steve Page, Stu Hopkins, Phil Gould, at which point I knew there was only new recruit Pete Hawkins and Kenilworth Runners ‘Runner of the Month’ Andy Siggers left to catch. I was gutted by the nature in which I overtook Pete Hawkins – he’d lost a shoe in ‘the ditch’ and was doing his damnedest to fish it out – I think he lost about 45seconds fishing around in the mud… poor sod.
The flat fields which followed the ditch worked to my advantage as I passed more runners and was soon within a few metres of ‘Siggers’ – and as we reached the bottom of Beacon Hill for the second time I was on his shoulder – until the hill started of course and he opened up a few metres gap, we descended at an equal pace and reached the foot of Beacon hill a few metres apart. The twisty nature of the trail that followed allowed me to close the gap again and I sat on his shoulder as we lapped the bottom field and moved past just before we entered the wooded trail section leading towards the ditch for the penultimate time. I encouraged Andy to stay with me but by the time we were back onto the fields I’d unknowingly opened a gap. “Just sit in and work comfortably hard” I thought… which is what I did for the final lap, passing Tom Madden of Godiva and closing in on Harvey Speed. I drew level with Harvey but knew my legs were starting to struggle a bit and I didn’t expect to challenge him, to which end he opened up a 5-10m gap as we entered the final mile.
With 800m to go, I was switching places with a Birchfield athlete, with Harvey Speed still up to 10m ahead – we entered the final straight and I opened up – sailing past Harvey a lot easier than I’d expected, and also past several other athletes – I felt great! Turning up the pace I was sailing towards the finish line having disposed of the trailing athletes – or so I thought – with 20m to go Harvey was back on my shoulder and surging – I was on the wind down and whilst I tried to respond I knew there was no way I could accelerate quickly enough to match his pace enough to defend the position. I genuinely think that’s the first time I’ve been overtaken in a sprint finish – but frustratingly I think it’s because I switched off and didn’t pay enough attention to what was going on around me. Idiot.
With all that said and done, at the end of the day, when push comes to shove, I was delighted to have run so strongly and confidently; comfortably finishing as first Kenilworth Runner. The only slight blunting of what was a very pleasing performance was to hear that two Leamington C&AC runners finished well up the field – two comparatively young athletes whom are obviously improving rapidly and dramatically but whom I should be very competitive with. Given how comfy I felt I do wonder if the slow start cost me in this respect but conversely would I have worked my way through the field so comprehensively with an early buildup of lactic from such a fast paced start? My first mile was 5:12, and that was including the first few corners where intense traffic almost brings proceedings to a standstill. With an average pace of circa 5:40/mi for the race – would a faster start have been beneficial? Or have those guys really just improved that much since I last race them?
Please feel free to add your thoughts below!