- Stand around for 3 hours in freezing cold conditions
- Drink lots of coffee beforehand to try and keep warm and then leave it till the first race has started before deciding that you need to go to the toilet but are unable to because you are unable to leave your marshalling point
- Leave it till the last minute to leave said marshalling point, giving the smallest amount of time possible to warm up and stretch before the race begins
So the last XC race of the season is finally upon us, and it was our own on the windswept fields and pit heap at Wrekenton. This was the first cross country race I ran when I joined the club (on the same day) and I remember that day getting a shock as to how hard cross country running can be. Many XC races later and the course never gets any easier, although despite the rain the previous day the course was pretty dry with early inspections reporting only a few boggy patches and Paul promising that it wouldn’t be as bad as Bedewell.
I was also marshalling (hence points above), so after being briefed we all made our way out to take our positions on the course for the juniors and ladies races.
The ladies slow pack set off first with a good throng of Saltwell runners amongst them, and then the medium 2 mins later with Sarah in it.
Nicola put in a great performance on her XC debut to finish first Saltwell and narrowly miss getting into the medium pack by a few seconds. Sarah took 2nd place with Susan closely following her for 3rd.
Then it was time for the mens race.
As the slow pack set off I took my place on the start line with Jim & Graeme and waited the 2 and a half minutes before we were allowed to set off in pursuit.
The course is pretty much uphill straight away – gradually for the first 100m or so, then a short steep incline leading to a more steady climb up towards the back of the pit heap. There’s then another steep but short climb to the top. There are some fantastic views from up here – you can see all the way to the coast, the Cheviots, the Pennines where our fell race is held and even the North York Moors on a clear day.
You can also see the St Johns Ambulance Crew, strategically placed to assist anyone going into cardiac arrest due to their efforts to reach the top of the hill..
Local legend has it that the pile of bricks on the top of the hill is the remains of a Roman Fort dating back thousands of years. Unfortunately though as Steve Rochelle pointed out it’s simply part of the landscaping of the area erected by the council as 40 or so years ago the area was a massive pit heap and covered in the remains of the long gone mining that took place here.
I was seriously in the red at this point, but I knew there was easier running ahead where I would be able to recover and I pushed on to the other side of the hill. This is a very fast section and nice to run down, although you have to be careful not to run into the back of other runners, especially on the 2nd and 3rd laps as it’s also quite narrow.
Onto the flat section out to the tall trees and I started catching the tail runners, gradually going past them and then turning to come back over the field towards the hill again. This section was a little muddy, but no-where near as bad as it was last year when I pulled my calf muscle here and had to withdraw, the only time I’ve not been able to finish a race.
Thankfully that didn’t happen this time, and I turned back to negotiate the other side of the hill. This side isn’t so steep, but goes on for a little longer. It’s a great section of the course though as there’s a massive throng of spectators lining the sides of the path and cheering you on. It’s definitely the best atmosphere of any of the XC races – as well as cheering there are whistles, cowbells and even someone with a a drum – the noise is deafening.
As soon as the top of the hill is reached it’s time to come back down again on a nice descent back down to the old railway line and then a hairpin turn back to the start for a second lap.
For me it’s around this point that I know if I’m going to have a good race or not. I felt terrible after the first lap at Bedewell and really struggled to get round the course that day but today I felt really strong.
It was a bit more congested now which made it more difficult to get past people, but another good thing about the course is that it’s pretty wide most of the way round and no real bottlenecks where you get stuck behind people like Shibdon Pond (not on the calendar this year).
Another great thing about the course is all the support from all the marshals and fellow Saltwellians which really helps too – big shout out to all of you!
Onto the third lap and I could see Scott ahead of me who was obviously running well. We exchanged a few words as I went past, and also passed Fred on the way up to the back of the pit heap again. I still felt pretty good at this point and thought that I might have a chance of getting into the fast pack which was one of my targets for the season. I knew there were still 2 Saltwell vests in front of me – Iain and new lad Dave Scribbins. I wasn’t sure if I’d catch Dave, but coming round the tall trees I spotted Iain and went past him on cowbell hill. Fantastic run by him, definitely the most improved runner this season.
I was absolutely knackered coming down off the hill for the final time and then Keith words popped into my head from a training session we did up here a while back. “When you’re coming down here for the final time, look at who’s in front of you and try and pick a few of them off. You’re going to be tired, but remember they are too and the person behind you is also going to be trying to get past you”
As I ran along the tracks I could hear people shouting for other runners behind me but I was determined no one was going to get past me now. I went past a few more people and finally turned into the finishing straight. There were a couple of runners ahead of me but they were running well and had a too big gap for me to close. Then I felt someone on my shoulder putting in an effort to get past me. I responded and managed to hold them off but there was still quite a distance to go to the finish line and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to last that long.
In these situations though there isn’t really much time to think about anything and I did the only thing I could – ran as fast as my legs would carry me and just managed to pip him to the line.
So I ended up in 56th place, 16 seconds behind Dave who I subsequently learnt had to stop to reacquaint himself with one of his shoes in the early part of the race so great race by him, and promotion to the medium pack for next season.
I missed out on the fast pack my 7 seconds, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it means I drop down to the slow pack next year and get to run with the masses again.
I have to say I’ve really enjoyed the XC season this year. I’ve done all the NEHL races apart from Cramlington as I was running York Marathon the next day, Sherman Cup, the North Easterns and the Nationals. The Ladies have done really and finished in 16th place in the 2nd Division. Unfortunately the men’s team has been relegated to the third, but there’s been some fantastic performances throughout the year and a real team spirit so I’m sure we can all look forward to promotion next year!!
Happy running everyone!