There are 2 major elements that make cross country races tougher than road races – hills and mud, and the Aykley Heads course had both of those in spades. This is the first time there has been a cross country race on this site and there had been a lot of interest in the course profile beforehand.
Ladies were off first with Sarah running from medium, Gemma from fast & everyone else from slow. After watching the start of the race i made my way over to the far end of the course and the dreaded hill to cheer everyone on as they fought their way up it. It was a good turnout from the ladies with Gemma taking the win (with a performance that would have seen her finish in 3rd place had she been running from the slow pack,) Sarah coming in 2nd place and Jacqui putting in a gutsy performance to take 3rd place.
It was then time for the men’s race.
As Jim wasn’t running today because of injury it left Graeme and myself to set off from the medium pack, 2 and a half minutes behind the “slow” pack. After a short loop round the field the course descends down to the railway line – gradually at first and then precariously down a very slippy and muddy section with a hairpin bend at the bottom – I’m suprised the tree at the bottom was still there by the third lap with all the people grabbing onto it for support.
There was then a flat section alongside the railway track, made tricky by the intermittent boggy sections which were hard to spot because of the low sun in your face.
Then the hill.
I wouldn’t say it was as hard as the hill at Prudhoe, but the thick sticky mud that prevailed for most of it combined to make it a tough challenge and certainly the hardest part of the course.
Then there was a short steep mudy descent before another u-turn and ascent to make up the ground that had just been lost.
The course then flattened out again to loop round and join the start for lap 2.
The first lap hadn’t felt too bad, but I really started to feel the effects on the second one, especially by the time I got to the hill again.
I often find this the case with xc races – your’re still reasonably fresh on the first lap, and on the last you know that your almost on the home straight so are able to dig that littke bit deeper, but I always find the 2nd lap to be the hardest.
There were a few people walking the hill this time and the temptation to do the same, or even stop was strong.
The support from the rest of the saltwell team spurred me on though and helped me to push through.
By the third lap the field had thinned out a bit more which made for some easier running, especially on the more congested parts of the course.
On the last section just after the last hill I noticed an abandoned shoe and wondered if the owner had also abandoned the race and made a beeline for the car park.
I finished as 2nd saltwell counter after Fred, and in front of Dave and Ben who finished on the same time but Dave narrowly winning the sprint finish.
I’d also like to congratulate Iain who had a fantastic race – the best I’ve seen from him to come home 6th Saltwell counter.
So all in all a great day out – a proper cross country course and great to catch up with everyone.
It was also great to see Walter racing again after the injuries he’s had lately.
It was then time to cycle home to Wrekenton which just managed to do so before it got dark (just as well as I didn’t have my lights).
Results from the race can be found here
Next up, Wallington next week