Since I moved to London, started finding the trails to run on, got together a XC running team, taken part in the Surrey XC league, found my love of off-road racing and subsequently begun to despise running on the pavements and roads, I’ve wanted to race cross-country at Parliament Hill. Call me insane, and I will fully understand if you do – even I questioned my decision when I arrived at Hampstead Heath a few Saturdays ago – but I wanted to be able to challenge myself and tick off a race that people have described as “the toughest XC course in the country.” In 2015, there was an article about it in The Telegraph entitled, “The greatest running race you have never heard of,” and unlike most who are drawn to the Marathon Majors or big city races with thousands of supporters, little ol’ me is the complete opposite – I just want to run somewhere that’s meant to be run around, natural, scenic places to explore and enjoy – and I don’t care if I’m one of only a few racing or there’s no one on the sidelines cheering. Ok, there were literally hundreds on the start line yesterday and I did appreciate the support from my Fulham RC cowbell ringers and Advent Running friends, but I would have been just as happy with a low key race around some beautiful trails.
South of England Main Cross Country Championships, Parliament Hill
28th January 2017, 2.05pm Senior Ladies
Post-Winter Tanners and Boxhill Fell race the weekend after, it’s fair to say I’d had an easy week in the run up to this race with only one interval session and two easy run commutes in the week, as well as a sports massage on Thursday evening. On Saturday morning I woke up far too early for a weekend and with the race not starting til after 2pm I didn’t really know what to do with myself til then. I distracted myself with work, ate breakfast at about 8.30 and then, probably unwisely, took myself to a boxing class. I was buzzing with energy post-class, which is exactly how I wanted to feel, but suddenly it was noon and I was at West Brompton station about to get the train to the start of the race, nervous for the first time in ages.
We arrived at Gospel Oak station, just a short walk from the start, at about 1pm, giving us plenty of time to pick up numbers, get the club flag up, nip to the loo and warm up with a short jog around the course, all while other age category races were going on around us. At 2pm Alice, Jennie and I – the three FRC musketeers – headed to the start line with the hundreds of other women and were faced with starting pens, which I hadn’t seen since we raced National XC last year. The race started with the infamous long climb and as we gathered behind the line, before being called forward, I eyed that long stretch of grass, with spectators lined on either side, getting smaller and smaller as the hill got steeper. With a starting pistol fired we were released and a full-on charge commenced, spikes and elbows out, mud and hair flicked, legs and feet churning the ground beneath us.
The course took in two laps of the Heath, one 3km loop and then a 5km one, which I liked as I felt like the first lap could be treated as a practice and then I could really try and push out the final lap to the finish. The first hill, although I knew it was coming, was an unexpected burn to both my lungs and legs, and I was very grateful for the downhill as a soon as the climb was done with, apart from all the mud that made it impossible to gain any speed. As there had been age category races ahead of ours the ground was pretty churned up no matter which side of the path you took, and even my fell shoes didn’t make a difference on the slippy mud. Apart from the odd marshal on the side of the course and the occasional confused tourist, there was very little support on route and as I came up to finish the first loop I was so glad to hear the familiar ring of cowbells from my FRC support team.
The final 5km lap, despite telling myself that it was just a Parkrun, was tough. Relentlessly undulating, energy zapping, a real challenge. I was exhausted and I’m not ashamed to say I stopped to catch my breath and fast walk up the hills. I then decided to play a game with myself and tried to catch the ladies who had overtaken me on the climbs, which, if you’re feeling it, I would highly recommend. The last few kms were probably my best of the race, maybe I didn’t warm up enough, but my legs suddenly felt looser and before I knew it I was racing down the final descent, the one I had watched others do many a time and always wanted to feel for myself. There was no rest as I crossed the finish line however, I raced to the sidelines again to watch the start of the men’s race before easing off my legs with a cool down jog to follow the FRC gents around their 15km event (crazy distance for a XC!)
An unforgettable cross country race, one of the toughest I’ve ever completed and I’m hoping it puts me in good stead for our final Surrey XC league meet this Saturday and Nationals at the end of the month. Thank you to Becky for the fab photos and coming out to support us all after her long training run, this felt like a true FRC family day out.