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Race Recap: 2018 London Cross Country Championships, Parliament Hill

Photo credit: Andrew W

Background: When planning my autumn racing calendar, I knew I’d miss the first Met League and Sunday League cross country races (let’s call it XC to save words) in October and November due to travel. So I impulsively signed up to run the London Cross Country Championships on Parliament Hill as part of Heathside’s women’s team. It’s hard to say “no” to such a local race, but it would also be my first XC race in a year, and in a fast field – I was one of the slowest Heathside women on the roster. Upon perusing my blog archives, I also realized that I hadn’t run this particular race since 2013! It was high time to rectify that.

Goal: Not having run cross country in a year, I set modest expectations for myself: not to be the last Heathsider to finish, and to run under 30 minutes (I did this race in 28:08 five years ago).

Race strategy: Run by feel and use the downhills. Don’t trip or fall and don’t worry too much about time. Try to enjoy it!

Weather & outfit: It was a sunny autumn day and relatively warm for the season. The temperature was about 12C/54F – maybe warmer in the sun. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and dusted off my cross country spikes for the occasion.

The start. Photo by Andrew W.

The race: It had been pretty dry in London so the course consisted of “very firm ground with lots of holes,” as fellow Heathsider D put it on his Strava description of the race. That’s not to say the lack of mud made it easier. If anything, the hard ground was less forgiving on my thinly shod feet – I could feel every hump and bump in the terrain and had to work hard to balance myself and not turn an ankle. I definitely wobbled a number of times. But that’s the challenge of cross country for you! Time to do some more core work…

The Parliament Hill XC course famously starts by running straight up the long, south-facing slope of – you guessed it – Parliament Hill. The first kilometer felt endless, although I was pleased to go through it in 5:01. It doesn’t get any easier after the long hill: the course undulates up and down grassy fields, through pockets of woods and across some paved paths. There is never a step on perfectly flat ground. It is relentless.

Nevertheless, I had committed to it, so I kept running. My second and third kilometers were faster than the first. Clubmate A passed me at 3.5km as I was struggling up a steep hill for the second time. We’re over halfway, I breathed to her. That fourth kilometer was the hardest. I felt a bit sick – it’s hard to fuel properly for midday/afternoon races – and my legs had lost the spring they had in the first lap. Just relax, keep breathing, be patient, I told myself.

Knowing the last kilometer was mostly downhill, I resolved to save my energy until then for the final push to the finish. I picked it up for a swift final kilometer – 3:55 – but didn’t quite have the kick to catch anyone at the end.

Heathside women post-race. Photo from Emily R.

The result: I finished the race in 28:04 (7:31/mi = 4:41/kmand came 123rd of 311 women finishers. I was the 15th of 20 Heathside women running, and ran this course 4 seconds faster than I did five years ago. Not much, but I’ll take it. The best news is that our leading quartet of women combined to win and become the London XC champs 2018! Brilliant running, Heathsiders.

This was a hard race. I struggled to get in a racing mindset and didn’t respond well to challenges from other runners. I forgot how hard cross country running is on your feet, ankles, and calves. Time for some stretching and rolling! But I’m glad I did it and now know I need to do some more hilly trail training.

Post-race: Women’s team photo the home to a hot shower and F’s freshly-baked sausage rolls. Yum!

Next up: Probably Perivale 5 in a couple of weeks, although I may trade it in for a Sunday League XC race. I’ll see how I feel.


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