English Schools XC, Catton Hall, Derbyshire, Saturday, March 16, 2013

Adam Walker

Many of you may know that one of my main goals for 2013 was to qualify for the English Schools XC champs, which I managed to, JUST qualifying 8th out of 8 for team Durham with 8th place at Meadowfield and 6th at Guisborough, both had to be desperately fought for.

He ran it for us! Good to see the mud levels haven't receded three weeks later ... I had collected the team Durham kit, a purple vest with a diagonal yellow stripe and split shorts of the same pattern. Controversially, we were not allowed tights or showing shorts underneath, which I was pretty gutted about, I always wear some black compression shorts, and hate running in anything non-wicking. But either way, the Durham vest would be worn with pride.

A team coach would be picking up all 40 of the team at various points around the county, take us to a hotel near the course in south Derbyshire where we would stay the night before taking us to the course where the coach would be our team base.

The journey down was great, I already knew a couple of faces from parkrun and cross countries, and I sat next to Jordan Bell, great rival and good friend, and the banter going full flow all the way down. I think I must of been talking about McDonalds a lot as they seemed to understand my excitement when we stopped at a services with a McDonalds.

We arrived at the hotel, a Holiday Inn Express and agreed to get a good nights sleep, seemed sensible, and after all, we were here to race.

The next morning, a full English breakfast perked the majority of us up, before heading to Catton Park! We arrived as the first team there! This wasn’t really surprising seeing as the first race was at 12.30 and we arrived at 9… but at least we could pick the best spot for the coach! Or not… we were told the coach wasn’t allowed on site like last year and it would have to be parked in a coach park a long way away. Great, no tent, no shelter. But I had brought my trusty camping stool, which everyone thought was genius, I agreed.

After walking the course, I concluded that 15mm spikes was DEFINITELY the right decision, it was raining and already muddy enough to slip with trail shoes on just from people walking the course, never mind after nearly 2000 people run multiple laps on it! Talking of the course, there was one sharp hill, one gradual hill, one gradual descent and one sharp descent, I would run all of these twice as well as 2 500m ish small laps right at the start.

After waiting around for ages, watching many other races cheering on team Durham, we had a 4th place in intermediate girls! The intermediate boys race had many of my friends running in so I watched that before going over to warm up during the senior girls race, where someone I train at Harriers with managed to finish high up

Our race was delayed until 3.30, which allowed a very long warm up with the lads. I should explain that the race was set up into pens, like the nationals, but each county (out of 45) only had room for one runner actually on the start line, the rest were lined up in single file behind in order of how likely they were to do well. I, as I qualified 8th, was at the back. I should also explain my race plan, in previous races I noticed many were starting off quicker as they were not used to the high standard and this consequently ruined their race as they basically crawled the second half of the race. So, simple tactic, start steady and build it up.

BANG, the gun goes, lots of pushing and elbowing and I find myself LAST, yes 315th! Well for a few moments.

The two small laps, about 1k: Keeping it steady, keeping the hill at the end of this section in my mind, its enough to put lactic acid in my legs for the rest of the race if I’m not fresh for it. Just keeping the pace steady and gradually making my way through the field. At the end of the first lap I hear ‘go Adam woooo!’, and I see Shannon, a soon to be Strider cheering as she is down to support her two sisters 🙂 a quick fist pump and back to the task at hand.

The first large lap, about two miles: Slow down before the hill as I’m dreading it, I’ve never been a hill runner. I attack it, driving the arms, and to my surprise, I power up it, overtaking lots of strugglers as I go. Grip was ok, and as the ground just about levels out I’ve climbed about 10 places at least. Down the descent passing the 7th qualified Durham runner who looks to be struggling already. Through a bog, (taped shoes this time 😉 ) and onto a flattish section, but the amount of mud means I can’t take advantage of this like I usually do. Around the sharp bend, to my surprise, I come across Jordan Bell! He slips but just about stays upright as I pass, “Come on Jordan” trying to get him to drag me round, I know if we go around as a pair we’ll rip this field apart, but he doesn’t follow. A big shock, Jordan qualified 4th for Durham, and at the moment he’s not even a counter. Up a slight incline, condition underfoot still sapping energy, and I spot another Durham vest, its the other Durham Harrier that qualified, I set him as a target and overtake him just before the downhill taking advantage of the rare opportunity for speed to gain some distance, now in 5th position for Durham! Blinkin’ eck.

Second Large Lap: Ok, now, I have plenty of energy left but the legs are starting to burn a bit, I can’t get ahead of myself, I still have the sharp hill to negotiate. Same as before, but this time gaining some speed in the build up to it, drive the arms, drive the legs, and don’t stop till you get to the top, yet again it’s over in no time, another 10 or so places taken. Pick up the pace a little, overtaking people that look like they need an ambulance. Up ahead I see Adrian Bailes, who qualified 3rd for Durham, I come up alongside him on the 180 degree turn, through the stream and start to kick slightly, forgetting that Adrian is an absolute tank, and he starts to wind it up, leaving me behind, but still feeling strong. Fly downhill, hearing one of the Durham lads shout 200 to go, he might as well have fired a starting pistol. The legs were burning but it was sprint finish time, catch a couple of people and its over. A very hard race, but the first time in ages I’ve paced something right, very VERY pleased with how it went

25.31 was my chip time, and 215th my overall position out of 308 finishers, 5th counter for Durham. Not half bad

A knackered congratulations to team mates, some of them upset, one of them in tears, he had a chance of a team GB spot, and was in position to get one before a stitch, Jordan also looks gutted. But I’m happy 🙂

Very quickly getting changed and then a long wait for the bus. The crack on the bus back was AWESOME, everyone knew everyone so much more, summed up a great day out.

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