Thursday 13 January 2011

Worcestershire AAA Cross-Country County Championships 2011

I've always liked championship racing - either watching or participating.  The heady buzz of competitors as they strive for the line is more than just a little intoxicating.  Since there's approximately zero chance of me winning a championship any time soon, I appreciate the open nature of the county competitions.  I can experience the atmosphere, see the winners from close up, and challenge neighbouring clubs by picking up one or two places.  They're great events to bring local runners of all types together.  At the front, speedy waifs look ready to be blown away by a heavy gust of wind.  At the back, runners revel in their new or lasting ability to complete the course.  In the middle, the rest of us battle for age-group prizes, places to count toward the team award, or simply to be better than we were last year.

Last year's event was a frozen folly.  Ice and snow curtailed attendance and the course.  It was deeply unpleasant on so many levels, but I still loved the draw of the team event and the competition.  So, I bought some spikes in the end-of-season sales and planned to get organized for this year's season.  Of course, the marathon madness set in, so I've not had time or energy to join any of the local series.  The championships, however, called to me.  The date fit perfectly into my schedule, so I volunteered to organize the club's entries and put in a bit of practice in the unworn spikes.

The day dawned cloudy and miserable, as expected.  But, in a big improvement from last year, the temperature was above freezing, the snow had all melted, and only one of our team had to pull out due to fitness issues.  As the morning wore on, the temperature started to drop, and any hope I had of knowing in advance what I might wear went out the window. I packed my longs, long shorts, race shorts, club vest, club t-shirt, short-sleeve base layer, and long-sleeve base layer into my bag and hoped that I would be able to make a decision before the gun fired.

A fabulous early-January day.

We arrived in time to give the Ladies team an hour or so to reccie the course and prepare.  By this time, the sun was bright, the wind was cold, and our club committee members vowed that we would get a club tent to use as a base and a place to keep warm while others are racing (we're a bit new to this sort of thing).

Evesham Ladies get ready to rock

The Men's team and the support crew spread about the course to cheer on our Ladies.  Nic set herself in a top position for taking pictures (300 or so before the cull!).  The gun fired, and we all cheered the runners on their three-lap tour of Cofton Park, next to the old MG car plant. 

And they're off!

The park offers a great place to run, with a nice steep hill to keep competitors from getting bored.  With each lap, the field spread out.  The leaders began to catch the stragglers as the back of the field hit half-way.  Our Ladies team set us a hard task by racing well and taking 3rd in the team competition.  Two of our six qualified to run for Worcestershire in the Inter-Counties Championship later this year.

After a chat with some of the ladies about their run, I opted for long shorts, a short-sleeve base layer, club vest, and light gloves.  I'd probably spent 2-3 times the amount of running time trying to figure out what to wear... For about 2 minutes between warming up and the start of the race, I stood freezing in the sunshine.  Then, the horn sounded and we were on our way.

So many legs, so little tan...

A top-half team finish would be pretty impressive for our men. Our previous attempt left us at the bottom of the table.  Although we had picked up quite a few faster runners in the last year, competition was fierce. We really didn't know how it would go, so we just set out to run hard and see what happened.

The course was pretty simple.  I started in the back quarter, to make sure I didn't blow up on the first lap. Down a gentle slope, up a short 15% hill, zig-zag back down the hill into a gully, climb out and up a short slope, then carry on down the gentle descent to the start - repeat as needed.  The first ascent was tough.  I haven't raced up a hill for a few weeks, and I could tell that the Christmas chocolates had been opened a few too many times.  But, I enjoyed the steep descent.  Most of the runners in the back were taking it very gingerly.  All I saw was a soft, grassy slope with no evidence of skids, so I sprinted down with arms windmilling away and left many for dust.  Sadly, Nic wasn't near this part of the course to take photos of my Mr. Bean running style.  This pattern continued for the next 40 minutes or so.  I ran slowly up the hills, losing ground to a few people, and raced down them, resulting in a net improvement in my position throughout the race.  I finished, sprinting with every ounce of energy I could muster, to the sound of "he's on your shoulder!" being hurled at me.  I was pretty sure there was nobody there, but you can't be too sure in the final stretch. Thanks for the unnecessary boost, Tara!

A final sprint to beat the phantom on my shoulder.  We need to check Tara's eyesight!

All told, it was a fun day out.  Cheering on the Ladies and then being cheered in turn made for a nice change from the usual race day.  Our Men's team finished a solid 4th, which was a pleasant surprise.  Maybe next year, I'll be able to get my act in gear and organize a few lower-profile events earlier in the season so we all go in a little better prepared.

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