My First Proper Cross Country Race

It’s just gone 8am on Saturday 28th February. After a good 8.5 hours sleep, my body has naturally woken me up and I’ve dragged myself to make my porridge oats and glass of water with an effervescing Vitamin C tablet fizzing away.

I park my bum on my couch, have a few spoonfuls of my breakfast and watch the news on BBC 1. Then my body reminds me with a flutter of butterflies in my stomach, “you’re running a cross country today!”, oh boy.

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In action in Alnwick.
Yes, Saturday marked my first running competition of the year in the wonderful pastures of Alnwick. It’s also my very first ‘proper’ cross country I’ve ever ran. I mean, I did run one around the outside of Temple Park Leisure Centre back when I was in school, but I’m not really counting that one to be honest.

I do love having that love/hate feeling on race day, “Ah I don’t want to do it!”, “No, ha’way, you’ve got this, just enjoy it man!” It’s the same expression and feelings I go through each and every time and have done so ever since my first competition (You all get this right? It’s not just me surely?).

Anyway, Emma drove us up there, her family all live up  so I suggested we make a weekend of it – I love spending time Alnwick me, I really do. When I got there, It took some time, but I found my club’s tent (South Shields Harriers), reported in and then went to register myself for the event.

The warm up was easily the best one I’ve ever done and I wish I could put my finger on it as to why. I think running for just over a mile and the drills I did clicked, the playlist I made on Spotify was without a doubt, the best I’ve ever made, a good mix of songs, none to hardcore to get me to pumped, but just enough to get me motivated and keep me focused.

As I stripped off my warm layers and waited at the start line, typically, the heavens opened and all of us gents go a wee bit moist, luckily it was only a shower! First lap was a breeze, I’ve never felt so relaxed and easy running up and down hills I was clocked at 7:36 and 7:48 for my first two miles – I was flying! “Too quick, too quick!” I kept telling myself, but still my pace wouldn’t budge, it was set for sub eight minutes per mile. The fast pack almost instantly caught us up (I was in the slow pack) within 3-4 minutes of setting off, it was so impressive how quick they got to us.

Second lap round, now I was feeling it. I passed Emma and her Dad and exhaled in a gesture to say that I was feeling it. My legs were slowly but surely, starting to get a little heavy and I was just about halfway around the course, I only had to hang on for one more lap and I could have a hot shower and put my feet up. The end of the course has this vicious downhill descent – lean too far forward and you’ll be kissing the dirt, take it too easily and you’ll have someone in the back of you, no doubt. I played it safe and let my legs go and lean to a degree where I was on the verge of falling over and nearly did at one point! 7:45 and 7:52 rang from my Garmin for my two miles. I was slowly dying but I couldn’t give up, not now.

The final lap felt like a marathon – and I’ve never ran one before!


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My legs were shot, I was feeling nauseous, my feet were hurting from the pounding and XC spikes, I just wanted it to be over. I figured that, once I got the hills out the way and onto the flat part of the race, I’d be fine and would be able to finish. Running through the woods was my favourite part of the course, it was so quiet and it was here where I was able to gather some positive thoughts. The hundreds of supports and runners before us could be heard as we neared the last climb and I felt that familiar feeling of a kick coming on like I felt during my first Great North Run. For about a lap and a half, I was sat behind an athlete (I couldn’t remember his club) and we were jockeying each other throughout. He’d lead, then I’d lead and vice versa until he put his foot down at the final climb, “let him go, Briggs, just finish the race!”

Coming down that hill, I knew I’d be within a shout of a good time, anything under 50 minutes would be wonderful, especially with my flat 10K PB standing at 47:53. I came down the hill and tried to summon every last bit of energy and increase my cadence. I sped by two, three, four people and almost, threw myself over the line.

For my first real go at a XC, I did enjoy it, but I think I prefer the roads and flatter surfaces for the time being. I would do another one, but maybe next year. I should say that Alnwick Harriers provided a simply wonderful course for us. Lovely views and great testing terrain made it the ideal venue for racing.

I think this last picture of me sums up how shattered I was. The Cantonese meal and beers went down a treat after!

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