National XC, Nottingham

ByJim Hickie

National XC, Nottingham

If one of the foundations of this fine club of ours is cross country running it’s a little disappointing that out of a membership of 430 or so only two senior men and three senior ladies saw fit to take part in this year’s National. This was once the pinnacle of the XC season; you had to sweat blood to qualify for selection and get the chance to take on the best in the country. We have history at our club and in our region at this event with national cross country champions in our midst such as our very own Ron Hill (twice), Dave Lewis from Rossendale (twice) and John Nuttall from Preston. You get one chance a year to compete against the best in the country and this is it!

Clayton was once a force to be reckoned with in cross country at local, regional and national level, but where are we now? Cross country is speed training for fellrunners and stamina training for roadrunners, so what’s the problem? So come on guys and gals lets get this club back to where it belongs!

So it was with some regret on the team front but much excitement and anticipation that we boarded the brand new (only 187,000 miles!) and pristine Shuttleworth outward-bound multi-activity vehicle and zoomed off to Nottingham. In bright warm sunshine – that was the first surprise! Credit for the route-finding goes to friend of Colin and former Lancashire XC Team manager Ron Taylor. We made excellent time and got there in two hours. Colin also had a cunning plan to park near one of the back entrances to the park which worked a treat, only a five minute walk to the venue and avoiding all the congestion at the main entrance. Our first concern on arrival was not waterproofs and how many layers to put on to keep warm but where was the suntan cream! Could this really be National cross country day?!

The second surprise was being greeted in Wollaton Park by a mini-herd of magnificent red deer with even more impressive antlers. But the next surprise was even better: the amazingly good conditions of the course! Bearing in mind many parts of the country were under water and much was in a permanent bog, this was incredible! Essentially a beautiful green, firm, grassy course, undulating with some gentle slopes, but amazingly well-drained – definitely a fast course for the speed merchants – and hardly any mud!! (In complete contrast to the Northerns!) In glorious sunshine and warm dry conditions, this was surely tantamount to cross country heaven!

So much so that you could have probably done 90% of the course in racing flats or road shoes! So spikes had to be scaled down accordingly, for which Colin’s bullet proof cast iron spanner was a life-saver. Good organisation by the locals (one of whom as it turned out was of Clitheroe origin!) ensured final preparations went without a hitch.

After watching the best youngsters in the country pushing themselves to the limit round the course, as usual the ladies were the penultimate race. Angela took up the challenge, demonstrating good form, moving well and finishing in a very creditable position at national level. Christine as ever continues to set a fine example to the younger generation and it was a typically gutsy and determined run from Sue in her first run for three weeks because of illness.

Having cheered on the ladies we lined up in the pens with the best in the country – not freezing to death for a change! Then bang! We were off and stampeded into the first steady climb and the crowds of spectators went berserk as we jostled for position. Then round the bend and back in front of the cheering crowds, then a short climb and right up in front of the stunning stately home before turning away and charging downhill to the log jump. Then after another mini loop past the lake, the first of the three boggy sections on each lap, one of which was literally man-eating and seemed to have been liberally sprayed with superglue! On successive laps whichever way you tackled it right/left/middle it didn’t seem to make any difference and on the last lap some of us lesser mortals almost came to a complete standstill – but fortunately once out of it, the good running returned.

Only knowing a handful of the 1650-odd competitors in the race, the plan was to keep Colin in my sights as long possible but he’s having an excellent season and he gradually pulled away out of sight. At one point in the midst of 100s of unfamiliar vests, from Morpeth to Thames Valley, from Serpentine to Eton Manor, from Wolverhampton & Bilston to Westbury etc etc I overtook Kevin Hesketh from Preston, but he got going again; Colin had a better battle with him, beating him by a minute or so in the end. For me a lack of gears was typical of the current season where I can’t get anywhere near what I was doing, not 25-30 years ago, but in my last full season, a mere three years ago. Although going at full pelt all three laps, I felt to be running in bit of a straitjacket. I think it’s called age! Or maybe this is what you get when you’re not doing enough coachie Rochie speed sessions!
Although as it turned out it was a disappointing result, (in fact worst I’ve ever done – but who’s getting any younger?) ironically it was one of the best cross-country courses I’ve ever run on and probably THE best National course. And here we must have had some of the warmest and best conditions ever known for the event. Instead of freezing our whatnots off, we were basking in warm sunshine all afternoon.

All in all a wonderful day out, a fantastic course, conditions and race, a well organised event and an excellent venue. To line up against the country’s finest and give it your best shot, in the biggest cross country event of the season, is a rare privilege to really appreciate and savour.

But to be honest, if we got our act together at Clayton I shouldn’t be making the team and will just have to be one of the crazy crowd instead. So come on Clayton! Surely we can manage more than two men and three ladies at next year’s National. This club has history, pedigree and quality and has many creditable achievements and successes across all disciplines. Cross country is one of our traditional pillars of strength so let’s keep it that way! It’s a great way for both roadrunners and fellrunners to unite and compete together – let’s get Clayton back on the cross country map again! Let’s make the future bright!

And finally a word of advice when making arrangements for distant events – Shuttleworth Travel Services come highly recommended!! Five star service and entertainment. Cheers Colin!

National Cross Country Championships, Wollaton Park, Nottingham 22/2/14

Results Ladies 8k

1 Gemma Steel – Charnwood 27.42
386 A. Shian 38.38
691 C. Leathley 54.01
703 S. Allen 61.31
708 finished
Team: Aldershot Farnham & District

Men 12k

1 S Vernon – Stockport 36.23
773 C Shuttleworth 48.07
928 M Wightman 50.00
1657 finished
Team: 6 to count: Bedford & County AC
9 to count: Leeds City AC

Many thanks to Mark Wightman for this thought-provoking race-report. The future is bright!!

About the author

Jim Hickie