Being a Hunter-Runner or a review of The Saucony English Cross Country Relay Championships 2017
The Saucony English Cross Country Relay Championships 2017
I’d planned for this post to be something different to a cross country theme, but given how much fun I had last Saturday, 4th November, I decided to change my plans!
Feeling good after the previous weekend’s exploits in the British Masters Cross Country relays, I was looking forward to this weekend’s event. I’d been promised it would be about 30 times busier with teams travelling from all over the country to compete!
When I arrived, it was clear that spikes were a good call with the course having already been raced on numerous times during the day prior to the Senior Men’s race by Juniors and the Senior Women. The number of club banners and pop-up tents was surprising and seeing a sign for a coach park for the event highlighted the prominence of the race in the running circuit.
The atmosphere was great, a real buzz and wonderful to see so many different running vests! It seemed that a lot of people had made a whole day of the event. I counted myself fortunate that the event was held relatively close to home so that travelling wasn’t too much of an issue. Now I know how the event works, I can see myself wanting to make a day of participating in and/or spectating here in future.
Fortunately, I didn’t have long to worry about how many faster runners there’d be, or how I was going to prepare for the race. I knew that I was running the second leg and was quite pleased with that. I’d run the second leg in my debut cross country relay the previous weekend and I’d decided that, as I hadn’t had time to check out the course, I’d try and run the first lap fairly sensibly and then give the second lap a massive effort. That was the plan, but as I’ve found in racing, you don’t always stick to your plan and sometimes it needs to go out the window in favour of what you judge to be a better plan! Once I’d got my race number pinned on and done a bit of a warm-up, it was time to find a position to see the first leg runners head off for their 2 laps of the 2.5km (approx.) course.
The information for runners reassuringly explained to us all that the changeover in the relays was always very chaotic, so we had to listen carefully to the marshalls. As it approached my time to run, I headed to the ‘athlete only’ pen, which became increasingly full of runners. As we heard updates on marshalls’ walkie-talkies, the atmosphere intensified in the pen. People started to squash closer and head towards the opening to get to the start line for those on the second leg.
After a stand-off with the marshalls, they eventually let us into the corridor from which we could look over the barrier to see our incoming first leg runners and then take the short distance to the start line ready to go. My partner showed me a video she took of me waiting and looking for our first runner – it is hilarious to see how on edge I am, looking like a meerkat – alert and full of energy! I was running as team 127 and knew the guy I was looking for.
As more and more runners picked out ‘their man’ and headed off, I was becoming increasingly paranoid that I might have somehow missed my man running past me. It was at this point I recognised another local team in the pen. I resolved that if they got to set off before me, they’d be my target to catch for my leg. This was my change of plan. I was now going to enter the realm of the Hunter-Runner! The guy I’d identified was running for Beeston AC ‘B’ team, corresponding with my running for Long Eaton RC ‘B’ team. I saw that runner head off at a decent clip and stared intently back down the course, desperately looking for my racing colleague entering the last 50 metres. It seemed to take an age before finally, I saw him! I turned and battled my way to the start line, checked my watch was ready and set off once I’d seen runner 1 pass the finish line.
The first section was really uneven and the grass was long, trodden down and spongy soft. Despite feeling full of adrenalin and running in front of a crowd, my legs didn’t quite feel awake at this point. Perhaps it was nerves on the big occasion? As I headed round the first corner, the mud presented itself and I assumed that there’d be plenty more to come! I was right!
At this point, I couldn’t see the Beeston AC runner and didn’t know how much of a time advantage they had over me. I had noticed when they began their leg though, that their footwear was a pair of clumpy trail shoes and that was a slight positive in my favour. From experience, I was so pleased to be wearing spikes now and this knowledge galvanised my concentration towards hunting him down.
I was making good progress through the field, steadily picking people off as I ran. I was also encouraged that no-one was catching me at the same time!
After about 400 metres, we entered the Berry Hill park woods for a kilometre. This was some of the most enjoyable racing I have ever done! With lots of supporters and lots of runners, the competition was fierce with no quarter given. Taking the racing line is all anyone expects others to do, which makes it harder to overtake – particularly when the racing line tends to be so much firmer to run on. Despite this, I was in a positive hunter-type mode and with confidence in my running spikes for grip, enjoyed the challenge of overtaking others in the difficult conditions. There was one descent which was absolutely fantastic in the woods. I ran along a ridge and turned right, through a chicane and then the ground opens up in front of you, a thrilling downhill section where you can really let your legs go. I tried to glide along the deep mud to get the most momentum from the hill before trying to use as much of that momentum as possible as you head up and round the corner to the left.
As we neared the emergence from the woods, I saw my target in front of me and knew I’d gained on him significantly already. We ran up a slight incline on grass up to another, much shorter wooded section and it was on the approach that I overtook him, about 6 minutes into my leg of the relay. I didn’t look to the side and I never looked back. I try really hard when I’m running not to fall into that mental trap of looking back. I’ve always felt, when I’ve seen those ahead of me looking back, that they’ve lost the mental battle and must be feeling the pain enormously, the look back showing an insecurity in their own position and condition. This always spurs me on if I’m chasing someone and gives an injection of adrenalin to the chaser. I wasn’t in the mood for helping anyone in this race, other than my own team-mates and I kicked on, determined that there was not going to be a chance for him, or any other runner, to close the gap or stay with me.
Emerging from the small wooded and muddy section saw us heading downhill for the last 500 metres or so to the start line and the second lap. As I approached the long right hand turn, I saw my wonderful supporting team clapping and shouting their encouragement, including some great chanting from my children! This really helped me keep going and spurred me on to work hard with my running speed. You can see a short video of me running at the race on my Twitter account, @barefoottc. By this point, I was breathing hard, digging deep to maintain a pace and battling those inner demons that were negatively saying things like, ‘What? You’re only just getting to halfway, how are you going to do all this again? You’ll get caught if you don’t slow down…Remember when you pushed yourself too hard last time and wretched? Why don’t you slow down or just stop?’
This is the kind of mental battle that, I imagine, goes on inside all of our heads, no matter how fast or slow you might be, how many years you’ve run for, or how hard you might be trying. It is in moments like this that I really have to work hard not to give in, but to run through it despite both body and mind wanting me to relent, knowing that these thoughts will subside if I just keep running, emerging victorious in the mental battle and still in the race.
As I ran through the start line on to lap two, the SAUCONY banner took my train of thought to my footwear, also Saucony, and I realised that I hadn’t really thought about my feet felt in my new(ish) cross country running spikes. I’ve enjoyed each run in them up to now and today was no different. Wearing them with such a comfortable tight fit meant that it was almost as if I was running barefoot. The added bonus was that my feet weren’t getting muddy!
The 4th kilometre was my slowest and took in the entire wooded section where almost all the boggy parts could be found. Still, I ran it in 4:02, so I was pleased with this speed given it was the penultimate kilometre. The course surprised me with the last kilometre turning out to be only 800 metres. It was a bit of a relief to be honest, particularly given that as I passed a few guys in the short wooded section with 500 metres to go, and I was finding it hard to shake these guys. Again, seeing my loving family cheering me on was so inspiring and I wanted to do my absolute best for them. The small group I was trying to leave behind all naturally sped up as we tried to maintain our place to the finish line. It was time to dig really deep. I was determined no-one was going to pass me, particularly as I felt like I’d made up a lot of places in my leg for the team.
Given my experience of the chaos and paranoia associated with ensuring I didn’t miss the first leg runner crossing the line when I started my leg, I wanted to try and help our club’s next runner know I was about to finish. Going up the final short hill to end my leg, I tried hard to shout, ‘Long Eaton, get ready! Ed, get ready!’
It seemed to work, or at least he’d spotted me and headed off smoothly as I crossed the line. I was gasping for air and I suddenly felt elated, wobbly and light-headed at the same time. I relished the opportunity to sit down, breathe in hard, pat some other runners on the back and feel that sense of community – we’d all run our hearts out, through the pain and with the buzz, and now it was over, we all appreciated how each other felt.
The amount of crowd support was fantastic, particularly in the run-in to the finish line and from the start line. The whole venue was buzzing with runners and supporters and I couldn’t help but feel excited to be here amongst all these like-minded people. I really enjoyed the atmosphere, the challenge of the course which was an exciting and enjoyable one – I felt like a big kid through the mud! I also enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, tracking down my prey and then aiming to extend my lead in the second lap and trying to overtake as many other runners as I could.
My strava activity of the event can be found here. My stats for the race were as follows:
Last 800m: 3:48/km pace.
The winning team for the Senior Men’s race was Tonbridge AC A team, whose team finished the four-man race in an amazing time of 1:03:11, just three seconds ahead of Aldershot Farnham and District A team.
Our A team finished in 70th position in a time of 1:14:12. The B team, which I ran in, finished in 124th place (out of 179 teams) in a time of 1:22:24.
For our B team, I began my leg with the team in 161st place. I handed over to our third runner with our team in 116th place! I’m really pleased I could make up that many places in my leg but also realise those with earlier legs have more chance to move up the places. Hopefully I’ll be back next year for the club and able to run an even faster time!
All the results from the day’s racing can be found here.
Have you ever felt like a Hunter-Runner? Did you manage to succeed in hunting down your ‘prey?’
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Come back again soon to find out how I managed to change my whole running technique and become a faster and more efficient runner in the process!