Race Report – Lincolnshire Cross Country League – Belton House – Sunday 18th Novemeber 2019.

Just three days after the Henlow 10 came the third round of the Lincolnshire Cross Country¬†League. I have something of a reputation for hating cross country, it’s perhaps no surprise that in the five years of being a Grantham resident this was to be my debut in the Lincs XC League. It would probably not have happened either were the weather not fairly glorious for mid November and the venue was Belton House, just a couple of miles from home and very familiar to me as the host of Belton House parkrun.

Talking of parkrun, I warmed up for the cross country race by taking part in the parkrun on the Saturday morning. Running with my brother Joe I pleasingly had no ill effects from the 10 mile of racing at Henlow, finishing surprisingly fresh, first, in 17:25.

Sunday morning was sunny and breezy, the race kicking off at an early (for cross country) 10 am. As I do for parkrun my warm up was jogging the 2 1/2 miles or so to Belton House. I arrived not long before the start, no need to strip into kit for it had been warm enough to wear my GRC kit. No need either to put on spikes or trail shoes for the going underneath was good to solid, I wore my Hoka ATR Challengers – Clifton’s with the minimum of trail sole for a bit of grip. Truth be told I could have comfortably worn the regular Cliftons. This was the type of cross country course I liked – a bit lumpy, twisty in places but fundamentally mud free and more akin to running on road!

I haven’t run a Lincs League XC before but I’ve followed them closely enough to be aware that the depth isn’t quite at the levels of many (perhaps any) other cross league. With the odd exception the big players in the local running scene don’t take part. This does give the opportunity for a fairly high finishing position (as not that many take part) for even the most moderately talented cross country runner.

I’m known for making conservative starts and this race was no exception. I let the inevitable stampede gallop off into the distance safe in the knowledge I would pass most of them a minute or two up the hill on the course – a 90 second or so affair just steep enough to shatter the thresholds of most of the field.

The start of the race – I’m there somewhere. Picture c/o Penny Hodges

By the time we reached the top I was sixth. I settled in running the opening mile in 6:01 which took in running around the back of the Old Wood and plunging back down the other side of the hill onto the level, joining the parkrun course by the golf course, but running it in reverse. There was some confusion when we turned off the parkrun course through a section more regularly used at the House’s horse trials cross country course. A marshal gave confusing signals which briefly had us heading the wrong way before we were sent in the correct direction. This briefly boosted adrenaline levels – I quickly made up the little distance I lost to the fifth placed runner and passed him.

With the second mile covered in 5:47 I reached Lion Gates and headed on the lesser travelled footpath of Belton House. Here I could see the fourth placed runner someway in the distance but clearly slowing suffering an overly exuberant opening to the race. Mile 3 (5:48) saw us begin lap two. I reeled the fourth placed runner, a 20 second or so gap closed to nothing by the time we reached the hill for the second time. This young runner attempted to go with me up the hill but his effort was short lived and I soon pulled clear and into a safe fourth position. I could see the third placed runner in front of me – around 20 seconds ahead. He looked fairly strong. I could have given my absolute maximum to catch him but a lack of desire and ability meant that the gap only diminished slightly come the finish.

Mile 4 was another 6:01, mile 5 was 5:43 and the final 3/4s mile slowed a bit to 5:52 as I lost interest in catching third place and had the other issue of catching back markers in the men’s race, the junior races and the leaders of the women’s race (they like to have as many races taking place at once in Lincs League….)

I crossed the line a contented fourth, which is hilariously my best ever cross country finishing position since I won my sixth form school cross country title way back when I was young enough to be in school. Young Will Tucker of Grantham AC was the winner, Iain Bailey, who I beat at Henlow on Thursday, got his revenge over me by finishing second here, followed by Chris Cope in third.

I cheered home a few of my club mates then jogged home. As races go fairly uneventful!

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