My National cross country story
A quick start and suddenly I was leading the race. Where was everyone else?
The English National Cross Country Championships were held at Bolesworth Castle, near Chester, this weekend, with James Kingston and Sarah Astin winning the senior titles. I haven't heard of either of them, and sure, many of Britain’s top runners were probably out training for marathons or doing indoor track races, but still, the National (as it’s known) is a remarkable event, as anyone who has ever run it will know.
First run in 1876, it is the oldest national cross country championships in the world, and each race is a stampede of over a thousand steely, fit, primed runners. The start is quite the spectacle, as this footage from 2017 shows.
Back when I was a lad, the National was one of three national cross-country races I would take part in each year. It was probably the least important as it was an open race that anyone could enter (you had to be picked for your county team to run the other two, the Inter-Counties and the English Schools), but it was also the hardest of the three to race and do well in due to the sheer number of runners.
I would always get lost and bogged down in all these big, national cross country races. My form would desert me and I’d find myself trudging through the mud and finishing outside the top 100 runners - often outside the top 200. All except one year. Indulge me, will you, while I tell you the story.
In hindsight, my big problem as a junior runner was that the more important the race, the earlier I felt I had to arrive at the course. I hated the thought of rushing around stressed before a race, so to avoid that I’d get there early, go for a jog, then find somewhere to sit and listen to music on my Walkman. The problem is, I got really nervous before races, so all this extra time sitting around meant I was just burning through more of my nervous energy reserves.
On top of that, I hated the thought of running with food in my stomach, as I thought it would give me a stitch, so I’d starve myself too. So by the time the race came around, I was a jangling bag a nervous bones.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but thinking back I blew virtually every big race I ever ran like this. Except one.
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