It was almost proper cross country conditions for the third outing in the Kent Cross Country league at Sparrows Den in Hayes on the southern edge of Bromley. There was a strong, blustery wind and very damp conditions underfoot, the rain held off during the race but, sadly, temperatures were nowhere near freezing.
The course is three laps of around 3000 metres plus a flat 300 metres there and back over some incredibly muddy mole hills – I dread to think of the purgatory for the moles digging through the sodden ground to create them. The main part of the course is an initially rising path alongside playing fields followed by a sharp, slippery descent then continuing along the edge of the rugby pitches. The route then enters some ancient woodland – Spring Park. It’s name comes from water sources rather than the season – The Beck, one of the arms of the River Pool, a tributary of the Ravensbourne has its source in the woods. The paths are unsurprisingly soggy as a result. A couple of winters ago the water table got so high that the playing fields became a lake for a month or two. There is a steep escarpment running through the woods, the race organisers have found the toughest ascent (around 35 metres) and a slightly more benign descent through the trees. All this is repeated twice more.
A weekend ago, I had thought that I wasn’t going to make it. My back, which I have had serious problems with post accident had improved considerably, so much so that I had done some heavy duty gardening during the week before. I hadn’t bargained for it straining again on a much less strenuous activity – plumping up a cushion…. Lots of icing, rest (from running at least) and stretching got me back on track though and I was feeling no aftereffects yesterday.
My race was seemed a bit of a struggle though, particularly the final ascent through the woods when I almost ran myself to a standstill – I might have been quicker walking. It certainly wasn’t the just over 10k advertised, but I suspect that it was more than the 5.5 miles my GPS suggested; my 47:10 (164th from around 190) was about 3 minutes slower than when I ran almost the same course in 2011. The slower time is not surprising, the conditions were a bit tougher, but my body has been through a lot this year and the ageing process sadly continues unabated. I will get a better idea of where my fitness really is in early December as I am planning to run a 10k on a course I have run before in Gravesend.