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It seems mediocre in a way to write about the English National Cross-Country after reading Michael Crawley’s exploits in Ethiopia’s epic Jan Meda International Cross Country. However, the English National to me, and to many of the UK’s running population is a holy grail in itself, an institution of British running and the highlight of the Cross-Country season.
I have been lucky enough to medal at previous Championships, placing 2nd in 2009 at the infamous Parliament Hill venue. This year saw a new course; the mysterious Castle Donnington…a place nobody seemed to know anything about, “a mudbath”, “rolling hills”, “dry as a bone” and “rutted farmer’s fields” were some of the comments filtering through the grapevine! It was refreshing to approach a course with no pre-conceptions of having run there before and to my delight it contained all of the above. General consensus seems to agree that a great Cross-Country course has been born!
My one gripe of the course was our pen being far, far away to the right on the startline and having to cover a strange, lonely 500-600m at the beginning until the field converged (apart from one runaway leader who must have started like a steam train to gap everyone by about 100m!)
I settled into the lead pack (minus the hare, still steaming ahead of everybody!) I clocked people around me and in my head I thought “there’s medals up for grabs here.” Before the event I had a top 7-10 position in my head but a few minutes in to the running I knew this could be bettered. However, it turned out to be the kind of day where the brain knows what to do but the legs didn’t follow. I can’t be disappointed with 10th but I do feel a sense that I could have done better, which is always a disappointing way to end a race. Instead of nestling in with the lead group I seemed to drift away, just not having the extra gear I needed. Most of the way around I battled with life-long friend and Kendal AAC team mate Rebecca Robinson, which was great to have a couple of us Cumbrians in the mix and she performed brilliantly on her less favoured surface for 7th place. I was alternating around the 11th-14th positions, and with each shout thinking “I need more places”…”I want the top 10!!”
Luckily the last half mile was the muddiest section of the race and although we were all swimming I think the relentless uphill strength from the Summer was still lurking somewhere inside me and I managed to pass a couple who didn’t respond. Then, in what is becoming a feature…the sprint finish, well it feels like sprinting, and like the Northerns it did prove lucrative, capturing the 10th placer and nabbing it for myself! Hard fought and not quite the position I wanted but one I will gladly settle for as 10th always sounds better than 11th!! Hopefully the venue will become a feature in the menu of courses used for the National as I’d love to have a good day here in the future.