The first cross country match of the year marks the beginning of the autumn, for the last few years it seems to have always been in bright, warm sunny conditions and dry grass but it is the harbinger of shorter days and mud to come in the late autumn and winter.
The venue of the first Kent Cross Country League of the season was a new one for the League, but a familiar location for me – a fruit and vegetable farm in Wilmington which my daughter and I pick strawberries at most summers.
The course and conditions were benign to say the least, a four lap course around wide, firm farm tracks, with the first lap missing out a narrow section. It was an easier opener for the season, but bereft of all the things that make for the best cross country – mud, hills, mud, driving rain, near freezing temperatures and more mud; it did have a field of pumpkins though. While I scraped off the last bits of last season’s mud from my spikes, I needn’t have bothered – road shoes would have been fine.
One of the great elements of the Kent League, unlike the Surrey League, is that, for most of the fixtures, there are separate women’s and men’s races which leads to more encouragement from the sidelines. The women’s race was after a series of junior races – the women did well with Donna leading us to 9th overall.
As for my race, it has been so long since I have properly raced that I wasn’t that sure of what pace I could cope with so I put my trust in my heart rate monitor, starting at the back, but aiming for around my tempo race – 165 beats per minute – in reality this equated to 7:45 pace. This saw me gradually moving through the field passing a couple of fellow Beckenham runners en-route.
I was expecting a torrent of younger runners to lap me during my penultimate circuit, but it was just a trickle – the final one was team mate Daniel who finished in 20th place – I was still feeling good, my pace wasn’t dropping and I was inching closer to a brace of Beckenham runners. Ultimately, Steve had too much left in the tank and finished about 25 seconds in front of me, probably taking 10 seconds out of me in the last 800 metres. Henry though remained in my sights, and I sprinted past him in the last 200 metres to finish the 100 metres or so shy of 10k in 47:16 – 176th out of just over 200, and 3rd in my age group.
It had been a good race for me, I had proved to myself that my structured recovery and training were going to plan and it bodes reasonably well for the rest of the autumn and winter. The next outing on the hills of a school just outside Tonbridge in a fortnight will be a much tougher proposition though, particularly if the weather turns, but it is one I am relishing.