My first cross country race: Renfrewshire XC Champs

Saturday was a rainy and windswept day, so what sort of idiot decides to head down to Inverkip to run three laps of a wet and muddy circuit right next to the sea in nothing but t-shirt and shorts? Well, a newcomer to running keen to find out what all the fuss is about with cross country running, is who. And that’s me.

The Renfrewshire Cross Country Championships sounds quite a grand title, but there were a number of events taking place across all age groups: Quite a packed programme. For the ‘seniors’ it boiled down to 67 people (47 men, and 20 women) from a number of clubs from across the area. We’d earlier picked up our numbers at the nearby sports centre, but facilities at the event itself were rather limited. The porch of the country house was all we had to stow our bags.

This was the first chance I’d had to try out my new running spikes. Strange experience compared to normal running shoes. There’s no cushioning at all (you’re running on a soft surface most of the time, so not really necessary), and the spikes had me worried about tripping over myself and doing myself an injury. I had the standard 9mm spikes, but they come in much longer lengths. 15mm spikes would leave me quite nervous to be honest! They’re also designed to get very very wet, and more importantly, get rid of the gunk out of the shoes nice and quickly. But clearly most important is they give you wonderful grip on an otherwise slippery surface: They certainly worked very well in that regard!

I didn’t expect to have a particularly stunning result: I was in it for the fun and experience, rather than setting a PB. But as I’d not run the 6 mile distance before (I think I gave my running club captain a bit of a heart attack when I muddled my words and said I’d not run ‘that’ distance before!), a PB for this particular distance was cheekily guaranteed 🙂

In the end I came 45th out of 47, completing the six miles in 48:57 (although 47:25 is the figure on one of the competing clubs website; I certainly prefer this one, although not sure it’s entirely accurate). I’d set off with the view that to enjoy and finish it would be the main aim, a respectable time the next. Not coming last overall was a nice surprise 🙂

I did very much enjoy the experience. It’s not everyday you’re ‘allowed’ to run around in muddy puddles and scramble up and down squelchy muddy banks! The only thing that I didn’t like was that the men got a longer distance to run than the women: I gather this is often the case in cross country. It was a problem for me because I’d been running with a couple of the women from my running club, so it was rather demoralising to suddenly find myself all on my own for the last lap! Men had three, the women just two. But certainly character building stuff as you ‘dig deep’ and find the enthusiasm to scramble up a muddy slope, and to not stop running even though you’re on your own in the middle of a wood!

I did manage to make my usual race mistake of setting off too fast, and that caught up with me on the second lap, when I really started to feel it. It further wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d forgotten my Garmin, so I had no idea what sort of time or distance I’d covered, or what sort of pace I’d been running. It was nonetheless an interesting experience to run it based on how I felt, rather than what my heart monitor or pace readout was. But because I was feeling too tired I did the sensible thing and backed off to an easier pace on the third lap, so that I wouldn’t have to walk over the finishing line.

There are some pictures from the day here, but unfortunately they do seem to only be of one clubs’ runners. Whilst I can’t imagine there’s going to be a huge demand to see pictures of me caked in mud, I will pop a link to them if I come across any. I also see that the results show the mens team were fourth, so sheerly by turning up and getting the team the requisite number helped in some way 🙂 – Congratulations too to the Bella womens team, who came a superb third. Plus to the womens captain who finished 2nd, and the Bella mens captain who finished 5th. I think I can see why they’re the captains now!

Will I do another Cross Country? Almost certainly, but hope by then that I’ll have some more speed in me, and improved race pace by then. I’ve certainly realised I’ve a big need to get more hill training done, but frustratingly I keep missing the club nights when that’s on the agenda. I also need contact lenses. Running a cross country with glasses is silly!

Anyway, all good fun, and a great day out.

RPTT: A surprise PB on a glorious autumn day

As I was down in London over the weekend, I thought it only made sense that I try and get along to one of the growing number of UK Time Trial events, and as my friends Dave and Sharon were helping out with the 3rd ever Richmond Park Time Trial, that seemed the place to go. They were taking part in a club “mob match” later in the day.

We had booked a hotel right next to the Richmond Gate entrance, so it was easy to get to the start first thing in the morning. Of course, a few beers and a hurried meal the night before didn’t exactly mean it was what you’d call ideal race preparation! Plus I’d been warned it’s a slower and tougher course than the Bushy Park Time Trial I’d run in September. No matter, I was feeling quite good, and even had a bit of hope I’d be able to improve my previous 5k personal best time of 00:23:41: My recent training sessions with my club have been hard, but productive, and I thought I had a good chance of getting a good time out of it.

I took a while to find the start as I hadn’t brought a map with me, and the event is still quite small compared to BPTT, so no obviously large numbers of runners. But got talking to a runner who was waiting for *something*, and turned out he was a regular. So I was in the right place. After a warmup, and the numbers grew, we were given an overview of the circuit, and sent on our way on what was a glorious autumnal morning.

The first half was fast – felt slightly downhill – which was deceptive. My splits were even in the low 4 minutes (4:30, 4:07 and 4:37), until the 3k-4k distance, when the course returned towards the start and got more of an incline: Ouch. Splits then of 5:03 and 4:57. Got to the end and my watch said 24:20, and I’ll confess I felt tired and disappointed. I’d run hard, but (seemingly) not come close to my PB of 23:41. Clearly the beers had a lot to answer for!

Dave – out on photographer duty – managed to capture me along the way. You can see his highlight photos at rowephoto.co.uk, and all of them at the RPTT site: Some stunning pictures in there that showed what a lovely day it was. Sharon had been helping with the timing with a very impressive looking timing device. Very neat it looked too.

So whilst the seeming lack of a PB was a bit of a downer (remember, it’s the journey, not the destination!), Frances and I then had a thoroughly enjoyable catchup with Dave and Sharon, and some of the other runners and volunteers in the Pembroke Lodge Cafe (a wonderful ‘discovery’!), before everybody went on their way.

On returning to Glasgow the good news about my race time came through: I was delighted to discover that my official time was much better than I’d thought! 00:23:18 – A PB of 23 seconds! The reason for the discrepancy was simply that I’d mucked up with my Garmin whilst warming up, and not reset it. Doh!

So a new PB to my name on a harder course than my other 5k runs. That *should* hopefully mean I stand a decent chance of breaking 23 minutes in the not too distant future 🙂

Great stuff, and a big thank you to everybody who took part and helped organise the event.