Cross country at Aintree? Memories of running at Hereford race course filled me with no great excitement, and reports of horses running through water at Bangor on Dee two days before (and at Ludlow), increased the trepidation. However, when we arrived at the venue (and parked for free below the Princess Royal stand, a mere 10m from the race course) it was clear the tufty grass drained well, leaving only a couple of boggy places. As second reserve for the men’s over 75s I was feeling more like Corporal Jones than authentic athlete, not being helped by having had training interrupted by a cold a fortnight before, but Sue D, called into the Welsh team just 5 days before the event, was a seasoned international runner, with a silver GB team medal from the World Mountain running under her belt, now turning out for the F55 team.
The first race had been delayed by 15 minutes, because the bus carrying many of the England team from their hotel in Southport was late arriving. As a reserve I began to wonder if the Home Guard would be called up for active service! The course was a 2km lap, dead flat with two small detours built in to alleviate the boredom, all grass apart from crossing two sanded paths. The two wet patches were getting boggier as each race ploughed through them, with runners trying to run ever wider to avoid the worst. Sue’s race was over three laps (6km), involving all the women from F35 up to F60, and was a fast affair, leaving Sue running on her own for most of the race. She finished in a very respectable 29.04.
The open race, for reserves and any other also-rans, came fifth, at 2.15, four hours after our arrival at Aintree. It was a relatively small field, so I found myself running on my own from about 1/3 of the way round the first lap, and from then on it was a lonely run, until I was lapped by the faster men doing 4 laps. I was unable to make any ground on those in front, but at least kept ahead of the few behind me. I crossed the line in 30.05, which would have made me, all things being equal, 10th in the M75 race. Strangely I didn’t feel exhausted at the end, as is so often the case after a (proper!) cross country or a fell race, but nevertheless in the conditions and with no company I wasn’t able to run any faster.
For me it was an experience, but it was hardly cross country. Selection criteria were largely based on performances in 10k races, and it was obvious why. It would be interesting to know how many of Saturday’s competitors regularly run Herefordshire-type cross country races, as opposed to road runs. Anyway, England, with home and population advantage, were clear winners overall, but with many individual winners from the other nations.