On Saturday, Eric and I travelled up to Oxford to compete in the South of England AA Inter Counties and Masters Cross Country Championships. The Masters’ events were incorporated in the same meeting as the SEAA Inter Counties Champs in which Alice was competing for Kent in the senior women’s event.
Although a bright sunny morning, it was still hovering just above freezing when we arrived, and the sports fields around the athletics track were frosty and rock hard. Any opportunity for a decent warm up or course recce were curtailed by the one-man-in-a-portacabin registration system and the fact that the hilly part of the course up in Brasenose Woods hadn’t yet been marked.
My M50 event was at 11am, and Eric’s M70 scheduled for a rather precise 11.43am – it’s a shame that the organisation didn’t match the planning. I led from the gun, taking a group of about five with me on the short lap, with two long hilly laps to follow to make up the 10k course. The marshals were ready to send us on another short lap, but we decided to head off up to the woods instead. By the time we’d reached the farmland, I’d dropped back about 20m into third, and then came a real beast of a hill as we headed up through the trees. Somewhere in the woods, the course markers thinned out, but I followed the leaders and we came out on a footpath. No marshal. No markers. We guessed and turned left, and thankfully after heading downhill for 50m or so came across the course markers again – it appears that we did about 100m extra and a bit more ascent for good measure on that first long lap. Naturally, the marshals at the bottom of the hill were quietly notified of the deficiency.
I started to pull back to the leaders on the farmland, but then we hit about 400m of the most horrendous cloying grey mud on the footpath back to the playing fields, which curtailed my progress somewhat, but helped establish third place from the two guys behind. On the second hill, the course markers were much improved, and the hill therefore a bit lower. I pushed on, but the leading pair were having their own battle so pulled away a little more, and I took the bronze in a time of 36:25, 36 secs behind Scott Smith-Bannister of Aldershot Farnham and District, and 48 secs behind Andrew Leach of North Herts.
I wished Eric well as he lined up, and then set about trying to undo my laces with frozen hands. Alice arrived and donated some welcome disposable handwarming pads while hearing tales of hills and mud – just her sort of course.
After pulling up lame in the previous week’s Kent Masters’, Eric got round this time in an excellent 4th place, and probably 1st M75 if there had been a category. We had to head off back down the M40 (motorway, that is) before the senior women’s race, but the course was certainly to Alice’s liking. She took 24th place out of 54, and was 3rd finisher for Kent. The provisional team results show Kent in third place – their best placing for some years – so in the last week, Alice and I have earned fives bronzes between us. As she says, brown is the new black!