Wollaton Park Cross Country 2019 Race Report

These days I have to be inspired and motivated to sit at my PC and start typing. My desk job requires me to be constantly writing emails, reports or listening to work related documents. So, it’s got to not feel like work. So, I have been suitably inspired to write this blog…

This weekend’s Wollaton Park cross country race is my favourite XC race of them all. Part of the North Midlands League it attracts some of the best runners across the North Midlands. It’s a relatively fast course for most and technically the least difficult for me to run as it has got some flat tarmac sections where I can really open up.

In the run up to this race I had a guide lined up who unfortunately picked up an injury. We weren’t able to run together at the last North Mids XC race in Hena, Derbyshire either nor the one we had planned back in November 2018 when I got a cold. So, the hunt was on for someone who would be quick enough and willing to sacrifice their race to enable me to run. After a couple of days following my Facebook post at the beginning of the week preceding the race on 12th January, I got a very friendly and promising comment from Gaz Chivers of Desford Striders saying that he would be at the race if I couldn’t find anyone else. I jumped at the opportunity there and then and added Gaz as a FB friend and then messaged him. We were soon in conversation and he popped around for a practice run on Tuesday 8th January. We hit it off straight away and made arrangements for the race on Saturday.

I was super excited and wasn’t quite sure what pacing I would be able to knock out so told Gaz that I would aim to do around 49 minutes over the 10k course. Although I have done the race around 4 times previously I couldn’t remember the length of the course nor the times I had done previously. So, 49 minutes at around 7.30 minutes a mile seemed reasonable and an improvement on my last XC race before Christmas.

Gaz kindly picked me up early as he was organising the logistics for the Desford Striders runners including the junior entrants, we got to the venue around 12 pm which gave us plenty of time to set up Gaz’s tent. I hasten to add that I had nothing to do with putting up the tent! I absolved myself of all responsibility there, as you will understand if you read to the end of this blog.

The wind started to pick up and I was getting a little cold (it doesn’t take much for me to get chilled!). So, Gaz sat me in the tent while the junior girls were set off. By the time the boys went off I joined Gaz in cheering them on. Leon and Joe did extremely well and I hope they continue to do so throughout the season.

Gaz and I then warmed up for around 17 minutes. I still had all my upper layers on. We headed back to the tent after popping to the loo and as we passed some Race Hub runners they told us that we only had 5 minutes to go before the race kicked off at 2.20. We rushed in to the tent and stripped off down to our race kit. I wore my bright yellow Blind Runner top as usual.

As we lined up everyone was in great humour and there was the familiar banter between runners. Then the gun went and Gaz and I stuck close together. This was Gaz’s first experience as a guide and I knew he wanted to do a great job, to which I had no doubt. However, this was going to be a new learning experience for us both. Gaz told me that we were taking a gentle right. As we did so I clipped someone’s foot as they got a little too close. However, Gaz spotted the danger and found us ample space to take a safe line. We were soon on to the tarmac section and I was able to accelerate, where finding my footing was much more firm and less bobbly. This allowed me to push off from the front of my foot as opposed to having to manage the constantly changing terrain under me when on grass or mud. We knocked out the first mile in 6.46. Although it felt on the less easy side of comfortable, I didn’t feel that I was going in to the red. I wanted to ensure even pacing throughout and if possible really smash the last mile or so.

The course itself is 3 laps, so when we came off the tarmac back on to grass my speed came off a tad bit as I negotiated the bumps and lumps. Gaz did his best to tell me what was coming up which became a little easier with less runners around. However, a little ditch on the course suddenly appeared, and caught us by surprise as my foot gave way slightly, but, I managed to stay on my feet.

“That came from nowhere,” Gaz exclaimed, “I’ll make a note for next time.”

What I admired about gaz was his ability to take on board any adjustments he needed to make and execute them into his guiding repertoire immediately.

We then reached the second bit of tarmac which was up hill. This is where I start to struggle. I dug deep and tried to keep form up the hill as best I could as I knew that once we got to the top there was going to be a really fun section of steep downhill. Gaz was so encouraging as we worked our way up saying,

“Well done Has, you’re doing well, keep it like this.”

He was also shouting encouraging words to other runners which I thought was both amazing and so nice for them.

We then got to the downhill section where I just opened up my stride and practically threw myself into the descent.

“Wow, Has you really love these down hills don’t you?” Gaz shouted in awe.

Once we were down it was a right hand turn and then in to the second lap. As we passed the amazing supporters lined up at the start/finish we turned right in to the second lap. All was going very well until my foot hit a bobble and I couldn’t keep my footing. Over I tumbled, rolling on to my backside. It was a nice soft landing. I got straight up and as Gaz was asking if I was alright I took up my running stance and said,

“Come on let’s go!”

Except I was facing the wrong way! Gaz turned me in the right direction, and off we went. However, it took me a while to get myself back in to my rhythm. I also thought that one of my shoe laces had come undone but Gaz checked and it, thankfully, hadn’t.

We got back on to the downhill tarmac section where I opened up again and again Gaz was suitably encouraging of how I picked up my pace saying,

“I’m loving this Has, keep this up.”

The 3rd lap was going to be challenging for me I knew, just in terms of keeping up the pace. I was really determined to dig in deep and not drop the pace. Once we got to the tarmac sections and some of the flatter grass sections I really concentrated on turning my legs over faster and surprisingly my legs responded. I was so please. In addition a couple of runners around us that Gaz new Dave and Arron both encouraged and helped us by watching out for any changes in terrain and informing us of what was coming up ahead. Gaz made sure I stayed on the most flat and firmest of ground to maximise the efficiency of my run.

As we came to the last hill I used every ounce of effort left to motor up it. I could feel my left ankle niggling and hoped it wasn’t anything too serious having had ankle problems and stress fractures of the foot in recent years. The final descent down to the finishing shoot was challenging as Gaz spurred me on to give it everything I had. And, I did.

I staggered down the finishing shoot as gaz steered me through and as we got to the end he gave me a massive hug. Wow, what a brilliant race. It was everything I wanted it to be. I really wanted to go full throttle and Gaz gave me the chance to do that with his incredible generosity and superb guiding. We also discovered that in actual fact we had run 6.7 miles over the course, 0.5 miles longer than a straight 10k race.

We made our way back to the tent. When we arrived one of the Desford runners said that the flag pole had snapped and another said that the tent had collapsed. Two of the juniors held up the tent for us as we went in and got changed back in to our warm clothes. As I walked out of the tent I heard the youngsters saying to each other,

“You can let the tent down now.”

And there I was thinking that child labour had been abolished!

On reflection I couldn’t have asked any more of myself nor Gaz. Gaz was utterly brilliant and I would dearly love to train and race with him again. A road race might be the way to go next time.

The following day after the race my ankle was quite sore on the start of a 2 hour treadmill run so I abandoned it after 28 minutes erring on the side of caution. Hopefully it’s just a little niggle which will settle down after some rest.

My splits for the race were as follows:

1st mile = 6.45
2nd Mile = 7.01
3rd Mile = 7.00
4th Mile =7.15
5th mile = 6.43
6th Mile = 7.21
7th (0.7) = 6.57

Drop a comment below and let me know your thoughts!

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