An extremely belated report on the Nationals....
This year's English National Cross Country Championships were held at Donington Park on 27 February, and a big group of us from Kent AC travelled up by train from London St Pancras to Derby (the nearest station) to take part.
The course was bounded by the motor racing track on one side and East Midlands airport on the other, so between the sounds of fast cars and faster airplanes there was plenty of speedy inspiration for the runners as they accelerated from the start across a downward sloping field.
|The start of the senior women's race|
The next part of the course was pleasant enough, with nothing more hazardous than turnip roots to worry about underfoot and a great downhill charge along the edge of said turnip field followed by a hairpin bend.
Conditions were dry and if the next section was uphill it was on a grassy slope with a fine view of Donington Hall - a grand 18th century building that has served variously as a camp for prisoners of war (1914-18) and Hungarian refugees (after the Second World War).
|Aldershot's Ellis Cross on his way to victory in the Junior Men's race and with more on his mind than 18th century architecture|
I'd run this far on the warm up so had no real concerns as I approached the next section, sure there would be more hills but none of the wet, swampy mud familiar from Parliament Hill Fields last year (or indeed this year at the Southern XC champs). But oh... Leicestershire had its own kind of killer mud waiting for the cocky runners on the second half of the lap. Not ankle deep in water maybe, but a thick sticky mud that was soul destroying over the three laps of the men's race. The course was officially 12k long, but my garmin showed another 700m as like many others I tried to run around rather than through some of the heaviest patches.
I was one of 1730 runners from more than 300 clubs taking part in the men's senior race, which was won by Aldershot's Jonny Hay. Morpeth Harriers won the men's team trophy. Hay's club mate Lily Partridge won the women's championships for the second year running (and she can run), with Aldershot, Farnham and District AC also winning the women's team competition.
Kent AC had a pretty good day out - coming 10th in the men's competition and 17th in the women's. As for me, my 1424th position was nothing to write home about, but last year I was 1745th! OK it was a larger field in London in 2015, but even accounting for that I finished in the 83rd percentile rather than the 87th... I'll take it.
Castle Donington is known for its music festivals as well as its racing, and while the national cross country champs is not exactly Monsters of Rock there was, as always at these big races, something of the carnivalesque with tents, flags and food stalls. Highgate Harriers even had a little sound system in their marquee, from which I heard Jagwar Ma's Uncertainty drifting across as I warmed up. Its chorus of 'How can you, how can you look so gloomy?' would have found a ready answer: just look at these muddy hills.
(photos by me except the downhill hairpin - found it on facebook and can't remember where, let me know if you took it and I will credit accordingly)