The 2015 National Cross-Country Championships – Tales from the back of the pack.

philAre you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin..
What a strange Friday night, no alcohol, early to bed and try to get some sleep. No chance I’ve never felt this excitement since I was a kid at Christmas. Managed to get a few hours and then it was Saturday. The day started with the alarm being set for 4.40am, a grumpy wife donned her ‘Where’s wally’ onesie (the uniform of choice for the ladys, surprised it wasn’t on the Oscars catwalk last night).
Pack the last items into our cases and off into the Taxi with little Lisa Perry (aka Gob****). Get down to the the leisure centre and meet up with Phil Askew and Bill then comes our tour guide/transport organisor Gillian (aka Brendan off Coach-trip lol).
Onto the bus and head for the back seats with the rest of the naughty boys and girls and onto Low fell for our 2nd pick up. The coach drives right past Joe and Naz, who subsequently got an impromptu warm up. Then onto Washington to pick up the ‘skin and blister’ (sister) Nicola who supplied us naughty kids with tea and coffee (thanks sis).
The journey was going to be quite long but as with holiday trips it was loaded with excitement on the way down. The obligatory ‘let’s pick on Phil Askew’ started early at 5:50am when pulling into the service station. Phil A “I’m not running to get no coffee”, response “you never really run anywhere anyway”.
Then onto the bus comes Phil James with his 1990’s style camcorder and whilst videoing the happy bunch he asked “Where’s Phil Askew??”, to which I replied “Right at the back, as normal haha!!” Phil A was then talking about how he was going to get a selfie with the Brownlee boys and we started to anticipate how the race would go for us and Bill Wilson was talking about Phil Askew again “The race is only 2 laps, but I seem to have been lapped 3 times?” pure gold.
Downing our hot beverages and the stomachs started to rumble, right lets crack open them post-race flapjacks nom nom nom! By half-six the first little sing-along ensued “It’s all about the pace, bout the pace” and “Leader of the back” were a couple of songs that made an appearance. Then just five minutes later at 6:35am Sam Robertson started talking about Mojito’s and GNT’s (think someone has a problem lol).
Fifteen minutes later and then came the silence, woah this is weird but by 7:15am the banter was back and onto the second wind. The talk rapidly turned to bodily functions and bowel movements which seemed to be the theme of the weekend and it was agreed that no number 2’s were allowed on the bus toilet.
A few interesting discussions followed with echoing body parts, furbees and throwing sausages down Northhumberland street, just a few of the highlights. We then stop at Woodall services for a quick toilet break and a chance for us athletes to get a nutritionally balanced breakfast, or a sausage, bacon hash brown and bean sandwich for me #carbloading.

10am and we have 100 miles still to go and it’s getting a bit quiet in the back as we grow restless and impatient. Meanwhile down at the front, the grown-ups converse in adult conversations. A tv drops down from the coach ceiling and on comes American Sniper (worth a watch) and we talk about ‘Run fat boy, run’ (one of my faves) and I show Lisa P the blister scene, she almost vomits there and then, now that was funny.
Another stop at the services and have a brief chat with John Longstaff (aka dwarf lover), John “Eee it’s like we’re going on our holidays”, I reply “Yeah, but you look forward to going on holidays and dread coming back, where this is the other way round”. How foolish I was as a few of us really weren’t looking forward to the upcoming ‘race’.
Sam was loving the ‘back-crack’ and Lisa P was asking if anyone wanted a free-ride, dirty girls. We arrive and get ready for the mud, the weather was perfect not too warm or too cold and a barely a breeze. Whilst walking to where we going to pitch, it was evident that the course was a bit moist to say the least, as we saw the juniors covered from head to toe in the brown stuff.
We then proceed to set up base and we erect the tent, the girls then get changed and ready for their run. Off goes the gun and here they come all 865 of them, got a nice wave from the wife as she runs up with Gillian. Wow she’s actually smiling, a little bit of pride is felt but no time for that mush I gotta go pee and get sorted out.
Down to the portaloos and I feel like I’m queuing at the supermarket and then the usual happens, I always pick the wrong bloody line to stand in and I got a pooper DOH!! Ten minutes later and I can join the boys in getting ready and psyched up, tie the spikes on extra tight, if you can still feel your toes then they’re not on tight enough.
Barely got chance to see the women run but they all done great and Claire’s going to do a report on their run. The call comes over the tanoy and we all need to get to the start line, I enter from the rear (stop it!) and spot the guy who just beat me on the nationals Stephen from Askern RC, handshake and a quick hello then it’s onto find our pen.
Handshakes and well wishes are exchanged with fellow Saltwellians and then came the battle cry HOOOOOOOPSSSS!!!
The usual strange looks and laughs from a few of the other runners and then a random mud fight between Phil James and Darren commences. As usual we’re too busy chatting and then people start moving forward. Oh this is it BANG!!!
Off we go along the 200 metre stretch before we tackle the monster incline which was a real kickstart to the old ticker (really should have warmed up). Off go the fast lads and I settle into a steady hill pace with Naz on me shoulder, a bottle-neck then happens at the first corner and we have to slow down to a walk as it was so congested.
Just enough time to get settled back down and we’re off again, round the first corner and down the hill and I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of some 2005 runners. Then onto the long drag of a hill and the realisation that this is gonna be a tough hour of running through some gruelling terrain.
A quick peek at the watch and it didn’t make happy viewing, so then came the thought that time is an elephant, or irrelevant, or whatever you want to say. Right change of plan, just settle down, enjoy the support, the views and the run as a whole rather than getting caught up worrying about time and pushing too hard (I saved that bit for the bus on the way back).
This mentality stayed in place until mile three when Stephen from Askern sauntered past. Quick flashback to the northerns, I went off too fast and Stephen caught me with just a mile to go and I couldn’t get anywhere near him after that. New plan, stay on his tail and then do him on the sprint finish.
I stuck with him for the next mile or so working hard to get through the ground and then he started to power away from me up the hills and build a bit of a gap, DAMN IT!!! I will catch him, so squeeze out a gel and get a little boost of energy, only problem was it leaked all over my hand and I ended up with sticky fingers. I can’t lick em as they’re covered in mud so will just have to grin and bear it.
I later found that I needed some water to clean my hands, plenty of that on me salty bonce, job’s a good un. Round the final corner of the first lap and onto see the Saltwell Cheerleaders, such a happy bunch so I strike a pose or two to show just how relaxed I was. Then begins lap 2 of 2 (could get used to doing 2 laps it makes a massive difference psychologically) and two runners from Telford pass me at a pace that’s a little bit quicker than mine, they’ll do.
Get on their tale and keep in tight behind them and my new saying comes to my mind ‘If you can’t do any better, keep doing your best’. I manage to stay with them and lo and behold we’re actually starting to pass people, hallelujah!!
Up to mile five and Stephen comes back into sight, ‘hmmm catching back up, we are’ I say in my head yoda style. Only two miles to go and 100 metres to make up, this is going to be close. Forget about him and go for a smaller target, just pick off one person at a time. Pick up the pace and get behind the next fella then settle in behind him until I’ve recovered enough for another little burst.
This is working and the two Telford guys and I have a little bit banter but continue at a good pace (comparatively speaking). The gap is now down to just 50m , c’mon boys we can do this. Up another hill and past the most annoying marshall I’ve ever met “This is the national championships” he blasted “Do not walk, your running for your place and your number at the end” blah blah blah, just do one mate.
Onto the hardest part of the course, a big ditch filled with what appeared to be 3ft of chocolate rice pudding then up an 80% incline (I’m not one to exaggerate) with 12 inch deep sludge. I can’t run up this again, quick walk and ignore the burning screaming muscles and try and get some oxygen into my lungs. This affords me the opportunity to have a little look up and Stephen is powering up the hill like a man possessed, this guys running well.
Over the summit of the hill and onto a rare flat-ish bit of the course and I kick on again with my two pacemakers. We pass a younger lad who was struggling and I tell him to join our pack and enjoy getting round “C’mon buddy we can stick with these guys”, he obliges and struggled on with us. Only one mile to go and buddy is struggling “Are you guys firemen or summit?”, then Telford runner 1 pipes up with “It’s okay stick with us and we’ll just do you on the sprint finish” Really??? I think not.
Then comes my response “It’s okay, I’ll just clip ya heels before ya start”. I think he took offence to it as they immediately picked up their pace on yet another hill (good timing that and I would’ve probably done the same), I turn to check on buddy and he’s flagging again “C’mon mate this kick won’t last long, stick with it”. I was right (as normal) and a minute later Telford 1 peeks over his shoulder with a look of resignation but they still push on.
Over the crest of the final hill and down the boggy bank we go, I then become the meat in a Telford sandwich and then comes the squawk from the hoopettes “GO ON PHYLLISS!!”. Here we go BOOSH!! I’m off, pump my arms and eat my dust Telford and a few other folks who were in front of me. Phew my hearts pounding out of me chest and I underestimated the length of the finishing straight, settle down behind the next guy and recover for a final final kick.
No problems get past him hear the beep from the chip and pause my Garmin and I’m done, that was good. Hung around and shook hands with buddy and Telford 1 & 2 and thank them for setting the pace. Then immediately turn and trot off to see the girls and collect my ‘Where’s Phil’ (Askew) T-Shirt which were expertly designed by artist Dave Candlish.
Gave them a quick break-down of my run (a lot quicker than this) and we didn’t have to wait long for Naz to come in. He soon comes into sight churning though the mud like a diesel engine with a determined look on his face and we’re down to waiting for our last hoop to come in. Get comfortable girls it could be about twenty minutes from now. Just 7 minutes later and Lisa S goes “Wait a minute, there’s twinkletoes”. What on earth, the boys done good, down the hill he comes and he starts to catch his next competitor, a 4’3” 70 year old runner.
I then run along with him on the outside of the course after he’s already picked up his pace and he passes the little fella which the elderley gentleman wasn’t impressed with and runners torettes kicked in. Nicola then gave Phil A his ‘I’m here’ T-Shirt and we head on back to the tent so we can get packed up.
High-fives, hugs and handshakes exchanged and before we know it, the tent is down and packed and we say goodbye to the course. We then take the longest 2 mile journey in history to the hotel, the driver got impatient and decided to follow a tranny van down some back streets. Big mistake he couldn’t turn and there was no legal way out, so after much deliberation he reverses back to where he started and heads for the hotel.
We get near and Phil James in his shortest set of short shorts I’ve ever seen jumps out to start sorting the rooms out, whilst we park up and get our cases. After a few rooms are sorted Phil J then turns around and asks “did anyone pick up my bag?” Uh Oh, visions of Phil strutting round London in his thong would not be a pretty site.
Gillian and Naz manage to get in touch with the driver and come back for Phil to get his bag, PHEW!! Into mine and Phil Askews room and I crack open a can for each of us, aaarrrggghhh that tastes good. Suitcase goes onto the bed, Phil A hits the shower and I look down and there’s a puddle forming on the floor (Not from me), balls one of my cans has leaked all over me clean smalls.
Time for my shower and a good shower it certainly wasn’t, it had the same amount of power as my dad’s old 1986 rusty Skoda and the same water force as a dripping tap. Finally onto the interesting part where finely tuned athletes come into contact with the demon drink and if you want to know all the juicy shenanigans of what occurred then tough, you should have bloody come.
All in all it was an epic weekend and I feel privileged to have been part of it. Thanks for your time and hope you didn’t fall asleep. Keep rockin them hoops guys.
Phil Robertson