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Race Recap: Met League XC – Ally Pally 2019

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

Background: It’s the tail end of the cross country season here in the UK. I joined in a few times back in November and December but took break from XC in January to focus on longer road stuff: the Fred Hughes 10 and the Watford Half Marathon. The former went well and the latter got cancelled, so I was excited to lace up my spikes again for a very local cross country race just up the road at Ally Pally!

Goal: Is it really possible to set a time goal for a cross country race? Not for an average runner like me. Every course is different, and the same course varies year to year depending on the weather the week before the race. My glutes were sore on Saturday from the many 1-leg squat variations prescribed by the physio, but I made a couple of general goals for myself: 1) Don’t turn an ankle/trip/fall/get spiked, and 2) Expect mud, embrace the mud, and enjoy it.

Race strategy: None, really (see above), but I did decide to treat it like a very muddy parkrun, have some fun, and try to save some energy for the finish.

Weather & outfit: A warmish 9C/49F but very windy. It rained a lot in the week leading up to the race, so mud would definitely be on the agenda. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and my cross country spikes (15mm for the expected mud levels). No need for any extra layers, even with the wind.

Terrifyingly long spikes. Worth it!

The race: I’m glad I had reread my race recap from the last time I ran this course, two years ago. According to that, the course was quite a bit short of 6km. That said, the start this year seemed further back than I remembered, so I mentally prepared for the race to be at least 6k (there’s nothing like assuming a course will be short and then having to run further than anticipated!).

I knew the first long straight would be gradually uphill and into the wind, so as we set off I went with the flow and used the time to test the terrain and warm up my calves and ankles. I found myself in touch with Jen and Alice, so breathed encouragement to them and pushed on. Short strides up the hill. Use your arms, I reminded myself as we were tested by the first short rise. Alice and I rounded a corner and had a brief respite from running uphill.

Lap 1. Photo credit: F

Then we crossed the paved path, hurdled a ditch, and dug in up the long, steep hill for the first time. This three-stage hill is killer: a longish steep section, a turn left onto a slightly more gradual (but still very much uphill) section, then a right up a short, sharp bit to the top. This hill alone made me really glad I’d put 15mm spikes in my shoes. The long spikes gave me enough traction to maintain control while clawing my way slowly up and up and up…

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

Then the descent started. The course wound around some trees until plunging back down the first section that we’d run up. Another ditch and paved path later, we were back on firmer, slightly downhill terrain. Behind the cricket pitch, it got sloppy: thick, soupy mud with a few more ditches to cross. I enjoyed hurdling the ditches – it reminded me of my track days from university and distracted me from the exertion.

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

Soon it was back out to the long straight for the second and final lap. I was tiring, but the cheers from the Heathside supporters as we ran between the club camps – Come on, Heathside! Go Tammela! – were amazing and helped me summon some extra energy. A fellow Heathsider kept passing me on the uphills (impressive!) but I tried to keep her within range. Tackling the long, staged hill for the second time slowed me a lot, but I reminded myself to raise my knees and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Back down the hill and over the ditch, I knew it was only 1-2km to the finish and the course would, indeed, be shorter than 6km. I passed a few runners in the boggy section behind the cricket pitch, including a couple of fellow Heathsiders. Come on, we’re almost there, I encouraged them. Surprised to catch one of our speedy vets, S, I knew she’d probably respond to my challenge and stick with me.

A marshal called out that we had 800m to go. You can do this! Just a few more minutes, I said to myself. My legs felt so heavy and I felt a bit sick. S caught me up and we pushed each other through the final 500m, passing a couple of other runners along the way. A yell from F, who had come to watch, helped me find a tiny kick to the finish, just in front of S.

Heathside women. Met League Champs for the 2nd year in a row!

The result: I finished the 5.37km/3.34mi race in an official time of 25:33 (4:45/km = 7:39/mi)I came 78th of 244 women finishers and ran my fastest time on this particular cross country course.

And by coming 16th of 35 Heathside women finishers, I actually scored for the C team!

Cross country scoring can be baffling, so here’s how one of our club coaches explains it:

The first 6 women to finish score for the A team, the next 6 for the B team and the 5 after that for the C team.  Additional finishers count towards the C team: although they don’t score, they can push back members of other teams, making the points for the team more valuable.

I don’t think I’ve scored for Heathside in a Met League XC race in over five years, so I am chuffed to have squeaked into the C team! I felt strong and was mentally in the mood to race.

As an added bonus, the Heathside women’s A team were crowned the Met League Champions for the second year in a row. Amazing running, ladies!

Post-race: A women’s team photo, catching up with Gabi, Caroline, Jo & co, then walking back home with F to de-mud my spikes and take a hot shower.

Next up: I think I’ll go back to some shorter, sharper running now that my long goal races are out of the way. I’ll try to keep doing a longish run most weekends, but I want to make sure my knee/ITBS pain settles before ramping up the distance again


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Race Recap: XC Met League – Ally Pally

Yesterday was the final fixture of the Met League Cross Country League season. A nasty virus kept me out of commission for almost a month over the holidays, so I missed the January XC race and was eager to lace up my spikes and put on my Heathside vest again this month. Even better, this fixture was at Alexandra Palace — Ally Pally, to us locals — which is a 12-minute jog from my flat. Can’t beat that!

The weather was cold — about 2C/36F — and a bit windy. A few snowflakes flurried around in the air. I debated all morning about what to wear and settled on capris, gloves, and a long sleeve top under my vest. I had memories of running the Ally Pally Met League a few years ago, when the bottom part of the course was so waterlogged it was lake-like. This year, there was lots of thick, sticky mud and many squidgy puddles of ice cold water.

My goal for the race was to run steadily, not walk, not fall, and just finish. Having been off for so long in December/January meant that I lost a lot of cardiovascular fitness, and it has been slow to come back as I have deliberately taken a gradual approach to running again.

After all of us women jogged down to the swampy start, we huddled together for warmth and then the gun went off. Gabi and I ran together for the first lap, letting our ankles get used to running in spikes and stabilizing on the uneven terrain. By the second lap, I had lost Gabi but kept thinking she’d catch me, as our amazing Heathside rabblers would cheer me on and then immediately cheer her on! Going down the big hill for the second time, I gritted my teeth and wished I had gotten some longer spikes for this race — my 9mm ones weren’t cutting it, as I worked hard to keep my footing.

Everyone always dreads having to run up the long, steep Ally Pally hill. While it was hard, I actually felt strong running uphill. I think it’s largely thanks to the core class that F and I have been attending once or twice a week at the gym. I was able to keep my body upright, lift my knees, and keep my arms pumping to propel me up the hill little by little. I wasn’t fast, but I must’ve been relatively efficient, as I did pass a number of runners on the uphills. That said, I then needed the flat “backstretch” of the course to recover from all the ups, downs, and ditch hurdling!

I was knackered by the end of the race and was glad it didn’t end up being a full 6km — it was only 5.3km. I didn’t have anything left for a kick, so a couple of runners sprinted past me to the finish, but I did hold one off at the last second (sorry, Laura, I think that was you! Love your blog). My official time was 29:58 (a sedate 9:03/mile, 5:38/km pace), putting me 126th of 170 women finishing. Pretty far back in the pack, but I’ll get my fitness back eventually.

As usual, the Heathside support was incredible. Lots of our runners were marshaling, as it was our home turf, so it was motivating to be cheered on all the way around. The cowbell-ringing and yelling crowd at the bottom of the hill was amazing. Well done to everyone on a great cross country season!