Cross Country season has arrived once more, which means winter is well on its way and its time to dig out those trail shoes once again.
Working longer and more frequently on Saturday’s have made me really appreciate them and try to optimise what I do on the days I’m off. Unfortunately Clare was working so I decided to spend the whole day doing what I enjoy most…….. exercise.
Clare Castle Parkrun
I started the day as a Parkrun tourist at one of the newest local Parkruns, Clare Castle. Having never visited the market town of Clare, I was pleasantly surprised by the homely feel to the area. Held within the country park, Clare Castle Parkrun consists of 3 laps around the flat but varied terrain course.
The laps although short were very enjoyable and featured a bit of everything. Starting from a disused railway station on a paved footpath, the route looped around the country park before a short out and back on an enclosed path prior to commencing on the next lap. I really enjoyed the shortness of the laps and did not find them repetitive while being able to catch other runners kept things interesting and fun. The lapped course also provided the opportunity to see the same points of the course on multiple occasions. Unknown to me prior to the run, good friend Tony Bacon was marshalling the run so it was nice to have the possibility of holding a reasonable conversation with him that was split up over the laps, something that wouldn’t be possible at a single lapped event. The only minor downfall was some runners failed to move to one side, which could have been frustrating for anyone chasing a personal best or taking the run seriously. I finished in 1st place, much to my surprise, in a respectable 17:07, considering I had taken the run fairly comfortably I was amazed how close I had been to a sub 17.
Clare Castle Pakrun is in my opinion what a park run should be, runners of all abilities negotioating a scenic and testing course. I would highly recommend the event to all and I certainly will be returning to the event in the near future.
Unlike me I didn’t hang around for the social after the run, mainly due to the fact I wanted to visit The Playground for the 10 am pay and play session. The Playground lives up to its title, a 1km long, 25 obstacle outdoor assault course, that is designed for training and well “playing”. Upon arrival the course was striking against the open fielded backdrop and instantly I began to look forward to attempting the course and its obstacles.
I completed the complete course and all its obstacles in under 10 minutes, but being honest for such a short stint of exercise my heart rate was incredibly high. The course was brilliantly thought out, challenging and fun while providing a wide variety of obstacles. Although it was an open session, Simon Goss was on hand at all times to offer advice and to supervise. It was great to know to pick up techniques and advice from him while also knowing I was always being supervised if something happened. The time flew by and before the session was up I decided to have a go at getting onto the fastest lap leaderboard. Having completed the course earlier, I knew I could make it round but had no idea how quickly. At full speed the course was really tough, my heart pumping and with very little rest bite between the obstacles my muscles fatigued quickly. On the penultimate obstacle, the rope climb, the obstacle that I always struggle with and just rely on pure arm strength found me out. After 22 strength draining obstacles, and still feeling the effect of the previous weeks tough Nuclear race, I didn’t have anything left to get myself up and unfortunately couldn’t complete the obstacle or set a time on the course. Although slightly disappointed not to complete a timed lap, it hadn’t taken anything away from the fun or experience of the morning. Without a fuss Simon showed me some rope climb techniques which will hopefully prove to be invaluable in future races.
Similar to the Parkrun I had thoroughly enjoyed my experience and The Playground although physically demanding it is a unique and thoroughly enjoyable training facility that I will be using again in the near future. Whether you’re a gym or fitness enthusiast or just a parent looking for something to do, I can’t recommend The Playground enough as an enjoyable past time.
The time had just passed 11, but I wasn’t finished exercising for the day yet. There isn’t many places locally as beautiful as Brandon and Thetford Forest and being right on the doorstep in Bury St Edmunds it was far too good an opportunity to miss. Enjoying my day I decided to hit some marked trail routes and run at a comfortable pace while enjoying my surroundings. After a quick search for walking and cycling trails I was led to the location of Brandon country park, the home of multiple marked routes.
I decided to run all 3 of the coloured walking trails, starting with the longest and working my way down to the short 1 mile loop. The trails were great, following a variety of terrain while providing plenty of magnificent scenery and wildlife. The Parkrun, visit to The Playground and lack of food took its toll and I began to feel tired towards the end of the routes. I really enjoyed the change in routes and having to think about where I was going while negotiating the differing conditions underfoot.
Ware Cross Country
Sunday’s cross country race arrived and the return of the local league once again meant that the race was at an extremely convenient location. Ware Joggers were hosts of the race, starting from Wodson Park less than 30 minutes drive from home.
On the morning of the race I had wondered if I had wrote a blog about this race last year, recalling that it was a race I had won on the last visit. To my surprise I had written about the previous race, reading through I found some useful tips and insight into the course and what was in store. Due to an unexpected road closure we arrived at the race with about 20 minutes to spare, which allowed me just enough time to perform the shortest of warm ups before heading to the start.
Reminded by my blog, I recalled the start of the race featured a tight bottleneck after a few hundred metres so I knew a quick start was required. Everybody lined up and seemed to be gathered in their teams, with what seemed like just myself and Jonathan Haynes separated from our fellow team mates. I ran reasonably quickly to the first hill and found myself at the very front of the mass of runners.
I reeled the pace back ever so slightly, which in turn saw two runners pass me prior to the tight section and bottle neck. I sat comfortably at the front of the chasing pack as we made our way across the grass and in and out of a ditch before heading onto an enclosed path. We ran single file and I found myself in 3rd place sitting close enough to the leader from Ware.
The course then headed uphill across ploughed fields, the terrain was much more forgiving than the previous year and although still draining, the mud wasn’t quite as sticky and insistent on clinging on to the sole of your shoes. Running in single file and still in 3rd place behind team mate Marco I noticed we were starting to lose ground on the leader. I decided to move to one side on the tougher footing and accelerate past closing the gap to the leader. As I caught up the leader I felt extremely comfortable and with cross country all about placing I thought about sitting behind the leader saving my energy for later on in the race. However it felt too comfortable so I decided to take the race on and lead the field on my terms. I ran harder but not flat out and soon started to build a lead. We ran uphill along the route that hosts the start of the Cold Christmas Trail Marathon that I will be running once again in a couple of months time. The hill was demanding but knowing that a downhill section followed I didn’t slow down at all and focused on working hard before recovering on the descent.
I was directed through a kissing gate into yet another field onto a muddy track, where a crow scarer sounded and reminded me of the previous year where a young girl was helplessly riding a spooked horse as it galloped across fields. The reminder of that poor powerless girl had taken my mind off the race and I had become distracted in a race once again. Thankfully the toughest part of the course soon arrived which made me switch back on and concentrate on the task at hand. Digging in up the same muddy hill where the previous year had seen me go from hanging on to second place to having a real chance of winning the race. I recalled the experience and pushed hard up the hill, not knowing how big the gap was to the trailing runners I hoped that attacking the hill would cement my position in the race.
The hill levelled off and I recovered once more as I found myself on a very forgiving path with a slight downhill. In complete contrast to the previous year I finished the race still feeling tired but comfortable, the loss of Hoddesdon Tri from the league a major factor but my general fitness improvement also an aid. I crossed the finish line repeating my previous year’s feat of being the first runner home. It wasn’t long before the other runners started to pile through the finish, including a sprint finish from club captain Chris Pitts to gain a valuable place with a few metres to spare.
Overall it was the perfect start to the league from a personal and team perspective. After the first race we find ourselves top of the table giving the perfect platform for another positive league finish and a chance of defending our title.
Energy Gels used – N/A