Saturday morning saw a well overdue visit to Parkrun and my second appearance at Hatfield Forest’s replacement, Castle Park. Having run the course once before and trailing Mark Newton for its entirety as he dipped under 17 minutes! I knew the course could be quick if I pushed hard enough from the outset.
After a successful 2016/17 campaign that saw Grange Farm win both the Male and Female Mid-Essex League titles it was in doubt whether the league would still go ahead. After many years being organised by Springfield Striders and in particular the hard work put in by Alison Gillan a new host was needed and thankfully Little Baddow Ridge Runners stepped forward to take the reigns and secure the future of the league.
It was fitting that the first race of the new season was hosted by the leagues new representatives, Little Baddow. In my opinion the toughest course in the league featuring many low branches and some steep climbs. An apt cross country morning greeted us on arrival, cool temperatures with crisp frosted ground underfoot. My hamstring feeling tight from the day before, I knew a good warm up was needed the only issue at this location is every direction seems to be up and down hills. I joined Springfield’s James Smith for a decent warm up along some picturesque woodland trails where we struggled to run any faster than 8 minute miles, but then pace wasn’t a focus as our jaws seemed to move quicker than our legs.
We made our way to the start and it was evident that we were in good company, the return of Alistair Brown for his first race since the Essex Way relay saw Grange Farm almost at full strength. Tim Woulfe also joining us on the start line suggested a quick, competitive race would be in the pipeline. After a short briefing summarising the new route from Ian Brazier we were sent on our way instantly heading quickly downhill. Learning from this season’s Essex cross country league races I took the race on from the outset. I have always started slowly and built into the race but unfortunately this more comfortable approach has found me coming up very short in the more competitive races. I accelerated down the hill alongside Jimmy and team mate Lee Pickering before we began our ascent up the other side.
The course really does have a bit of everything, after the early undulating wooded section the course opened up, first following around field edges and knowing that the competition behind was very good I decided to press on not allowing the front runners to bunch up and work together which in my opinion would have undoubtedly lead to Tim out-sprinting us all in the final stages.
After the field edges the route becomes much more technical heading in and out of trees while negotiating hills and mud. Low hanging trees seem to be a signature of the league, sometimes I question whether its just me being abnormally tall that I find so many an issue or whether there is an inside conspiracy going on behind my back to try and eliminate me. Either way it keeps things interesting and gives me something else to worry about while running. The woods are brutal but brilliant at the same time, offering some stunning scenery but also providing some extremely testing hills that slow the pace to a near stop. I worked hard throughout concentrating on recovering on the downhill while trying to maintain my cadence and turnover. There is one notable climb, referred to on Strava as “heartbreak hill” that really tests both the lungs and legs resolve. I tried to maintain a running rhythm the best I could and focus on making it to the top without stopping. No matter how fit I get, hills always test me and my best tip is to maintain positive when running up them and remember usually what goes up must come back down, so a descent is usually never too far away.
After leaving the woods the course followed a new, better, route compared to previous years which was quite forgiving and firmer underfoot. I pushed hard but all the while holding back knowing there was a good mile to go. To my surprise, and my legs pleasure, the finish was in sight with just a little over 4 miles on the watch. As I picked up the pace for the home straight I encountered a closed gate where two marshals stood play fighting rather than directing. I asked where to go and they just replied through the gate before continuing their adolescent games. A bit confused and miffed by their presence I proceeded through the gate to the finish to collect my winning token. A bit of an anticlimax to one of the toughest and well thought out cross country courses I have participated in.
I was soon followed home by Tim and Jimmy before much to my delight a wave of blue Grange Farm vests piled through the finish. First Lee then Matt, Josh and not too far behind them Dan. It was a great start to the new season with both Men and Ladies topping their respective leagues once again.
Energy Gels used – N/A