Tag Archives: Kent Cross Country League

Bridge Over the River Cray

An almost epic battle on the damp meadows of the Sidcup borders for the prizes in final cross country of the season.

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Like many of the open spaces that the League has ended up at over the years, this was formerly home to the wealthy of Georgian and Victorian England. Foots Cray Meadows are the grounds of a pair of former country houses. On the north western edge was Foots Cray Place – a Palladian mansion built in 1754.  It remained in private ownership until 1946 when Kent County Council bought it for use as a museum. It was demolished following a serious fire three years later – its location is obvious from terraced areas high up on the north-western side of the meadows.

On the south eastern side was North Cray Place which dated back to at least the mid-18th century, but was hit by a WW2 bomb and demolished in 1961 to make way for housing.

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Presumably the River Cray formed the boundary between the two – it was partially dammed to create a small lake – the plans for the landscaping, including the splendid five arch bridge, are attributed to Capability Brown.

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The course was much easier than all but one of the cross country venues that I have raced this season. Like the first, Stanhope Farm in Wilmington, it is a venue I know quite well – we used to come quite often when the children were younger – there is a pleasant mile and a half circuit along the banks of the very clear Cray with a children’s playground strategically placed at the mid-point.

The organisers eschewed the option of a water feature forming part of the course – there is a wide ford which is ankle deep in summer but would have been up to knee height for most (a bit higher for me) in February.

The course zig zags around the western side of the Cray passing the five arch bridge on quite uneven ground, it is clearly mole paradise beneath the lush grass, before eventually climbing up to the terraces of Foots Cray Place, then descending along a track back to close to the start for another meandering loop.

For reasons I never really understand, the final fixture of the year always seems to see fewer runners than the others, particularly in the slower, older categories – like me. It was a bit of a struggle from the start, the opening metres were a quagmire – I wished that I had worn longer spikes as I nearly hit the deck after ungainly avoidance of Talpa europaea deposits – but it dried out a little later, and I decided my spike length choice was probably correct. After about a mile, there was a turn and I could seen very few runners behind me and the finest of Kentish youth stretching out in a long line in front of me. After this point I passed no one and no one passed me and the race became an oddly solitary affair.

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On the route back down through the woods seemed to be a mixture of gravel and hardcore with a thin veneer of mud – it was treacherous with spikes and I had to pick a careful path along the edge of the path to get some grip. The two runners in front of me from Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells that I had been inching towards pulled away from me taking a good 50 metres out of me on the shallow descent.

On the second lap the runners behind me seemed to struggle more than I did, my glances behind saw the distance increasing considerably. In front of me, the gap was narrowing a little, but if I was to improve my position I would have needed to pass and take out at least 50 metres from the runners in front to make up for the time I would lose in the woods. I made a bit of a push and got the gap down to 20 metres at one point, but never got closer. The last few metres back through the quagmire were very reminiscent of Michael Rosen’s wonderful children’s book -‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’

Uh-uh! Mud!
Thick oozy mud.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.

Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!

Squelch squelch!
Squelch squelch!
Squelch squelch!

I stayed upright, although nearly nearly stacked it in the funnel – I was rather generously awarded a 5.7 for my efforts by the officials there, one of the best of the afternoon – worth waiting for apparently! I was 109th out of around 120 and sadly for Beckenham, our 4th scorer, ‘helping’ us to 10th out of 11.

Overall in the League, the club was 11th out of the 11 teams who had four finishers in all 4 fixtures – not surprising really, we are a relatively small club without a youth section and relativley little interest in cross country. Using the same logic in terms of age group placings, based on turning up to all four events, I can proudly announce that I was top ranked MV55 runner in the League. There were only two of us that did all four races mind – myself and another Beckenham runner, Andy Small.

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Finally, two sets of apologies – firstly, most of the photos are from a visit to the Meadows a week ago when the sun was out unlike yesterday’s drizzle; and secondly, I am sorry if you stumbled across this by mistake thinking that this was a piece on the David Lean WW2 epic, ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ – I hope you eventually find what you want.

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Almost Perfect Cross Country …

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.image

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.

The Race of the Falling Leaves

No, this isn’t a post about cycling’s final Classic of the year, the Giro di Lombardia, but the second race of the season’s Kent Cross Country League. The race saw a trip to the grounds of a Grade 1 listed Jacobean mansion on edge of Tonbridge, Somerhill House, now home to a private school. It is a regular venue for the League and is probably the toughest on the circuit.

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The course seems to get slightly modified most years and the 2015 edition was no different, the good news was that the really tough hill was skipped on the first lap of three laps, the bad news was that the long slog of a hill at the back of the course had been extended. The net result was probably little different and roughly the same length. The autumn colours were superb throughout and, as is always the case on the course, that beautiful smell of damp, decomposing leaves.

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The rain that the BBC had forecast missing Tonbridge didn’t, but by the time we lined up, it was little more than a misty drizzle which cleared as the race progressed. The conditions underfoot were slightly soggier than expected and I was relieved that I had put longer spikes on my shoes than a fortnight ago.

As for my race, it was much harder to judge pace than the race a fortnight ago, as most of the route was either ascending in the mud or losing the height just gained. I certainly misjudged the effort that I put into the hill up towards the House the first time around – I glanced down at my watch at the top and the HRM was ‘screaming’ at me that I was a beat away from my maximum, I took it a tad easier second time around…

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In the end my time was almost identical to last year 51:18 for the 10k(ish) course which I was relatively pleased with – 176th out of around 200 runners – and, on the plus side, I avoided being lapped, always an achievement given the number and quality of younger runners in the League.

Pumpkin Patch Cross Country

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Rain Stopped Play

Rain stopped play is not something that is associated with running, particularly cross country a discipline where rain and mud are generally considered a positive feature. So it was rather surprising to receive an e mail on Friday confirming that that Saturday’s fixture in the Kent Cross Country League in Danson Park had been cancelled due to a waterlogged course and concerns about damage to the park which would have impacted on other park users.

While disappointing, it is understanding and shows the problems of finding suitable venues for cross country races. So instead, I headed out this afternoon to do a tempo run around the perimeter of Sutcliffe Park. The Quaggy runs through the park had clearly flooded last weekend and its level was still higher than the path alongside it.

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There was still the very last vestiges of autumn colour on the edge of the athletics track, the yellows glorious in the afternoon sun.

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My own disappointments pale into insignificance with events in the sport that ‘Rain stopped play’ is more generally associated – cricket. That sport had a tragedy this week, with the death of the Australian Test cricketer Phil Hughes, struck on the neck by a bouncer, which just evaded the protection of his helmet. I have’t played for years or been to a game for a couple, but his death touched me greatly, particularly listening to the veteran Australian commentator Jim Maxwell announcing it.

There was a piece by Tom Fordyce on the BBC website that perhaps explains it ‘Elite sportsmen are our real-time superheroes, capable of physical wonders beyond the rest of us, seemingly unbound by many of the same biological constraints.’ They are the people we aspired to be when younger, but without their talent and commitment we remained ordinary sportspeople.

The sporting community’s tributes #putoutyourbats has produced some moving images, and recognition that bowler who innocently delivered the fatal ball, Sean Abbott, will probably suffer for the rest of his life. I was going to dust down the family bat, but the tribute left at the side of the pitch at Swansea (picture from The Mirror) by the Palace and Australia football captain Mile Jedinak seemed so much more poignant.

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Hughes, P 63* RIP

Making Up the Numbers

This afternoon saw a trip down to Tonbridge for the second meeting of the season of the Kent Cross Country League. It is the toughest challenge of the this season’s venues although, as with the first meeting in Swanley conditions were very benign underfoot, the torrential rain that hit parts of South East England yesterday seemed to have missed Tonbridge, so there was a decided lack of mud on what is often a soggy course. Add in a mild temperature and a decided lack of wind and driving horizontal rain and it made for very un-cross country-like conditions. It did smell very autumnal though with a pervading aroma of slightly decomposing leaves all around the course.

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The course is around 6.3 miles (10.2 km) with three laps – each with a long steep hill, another which is a longer slog but much of it covered twice, then a short with a short, sharp incline before some gentle, downward slopes to start it all again….

Rather a lot of the Beckenham men produced notes from their mums excusing them from cross country today, so my position was almost certainly going to ‘count’ in the scoring – never a good sign for the club.

My race was a struggle from the first hill onwards and the hills got harder as the race progressed, avoiding walking near the top of hill at the start of the third lap required a lot of persuasion of my legs. Unlike Swanley, I was lapped by three of the leaders – I didn’t mind too much when I saw who they were – the winner was a friend’s son, Alex Bruce Littlewood, and in third place was Dean Lacy, who used to help coach my eldest son.

I finished in an exhausted 158th with my watch showing 51:17 around 25 runners behind me; as with Swanley, it was difficult to know how this compared with previous years as the course had been changed a little and was slightly longer. Unfortunately for Beckenham my position counted in the team competition, which will probably consign us to the lanterne rouge position in the league for this race, at least.

Mud, Mud Glorious Mud

It’s that time of year, the leaves are turning and the last vestiges of summer are becoming just a memory, it’s a time of year I always look forward to – it’s cross country time.

Locally, at least, it was the beginning of the season today – both my clubs were in action, Vets AC in the Surrey League in SW London, but it was to Swanley Park I headed with Beckenham.

It is a park I have been coming to for years, particularly when my children were small – there is a small lake with boats, a really pleasant playground, a massive sand pit and a miniature railway, which was oddly running today.

In cross country terms it is quite a benign course – three 2 and a bit mile laps with two moderate hills each lap and no quagmires. The senior and veteran men were last to race, and after some incredibly heavy showers during the morning, the course was quite cut up in places and I was glad that I put long spikes in my running shoes but it was still mild and the rain held off whilst we were racing.

I got there in time to warm up watching some of the women’s race and having separate races means that there is a lot of course-side encouragement.

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The course was a slight variant to previous times that I have run there and a full 10k this time, so it is difficult to know how my run compared with previous years but it was successful in that I wasn’t lapped by anyone – always a risk in the Kent League where large numbers of the front runners are considerably less than half my age. There seemed a few more more behind me than normal – I came home in 49:51 in 156th place out of around 190, I would guess. Time and placing don’t really matter though, I thoroughly enjoyed it, cross country for me is more about battling against the terrain and the elements – there will be much tougher challenges over the winter.

Elsewhere in athletics, the IAAF announced the short lists for the Athlete of the Year and included the seemingly unrepentant doper Justin Gatlin, who dominated sprinting this year as Usain Bolt effectively had a year off. The problem with Gatlin is that never has anyone ever run as fast as he has over 30 years old, and there is now evidence of doping having ‘benefits’ beyond the time of the doping itself. Gatlin’s inclusion of the short list prompted the German discus thrower Robert Harting to ask for his own name to be taken off the list.

Irrespective of Gatlin’s presence, there should be joint winners in the men’s category – Mutaz Essa Barshim and Bogdan Bondarenko who have produced the most competitive and entertaining high jumping for years. As for the women’s prize, it is difficult to see beyond the amazing Valerie Adams in the shot put.