London XC Champs: Life in the congested calendar yet

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London XC Champs: Life in the congested calendar yet

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How often do we hear that the fixture list is too congested and a club’s runners are stretched too thin? Or that cross country’s popularity is on the wane?

There are plenty of people who think that there should be far fewer fixtures hogging their weekends.

One after another after another, laps upon laps of football fields and the like are the norm for club runners from October through to Christmas.

The domestic calendar at this time of year is chock-full of races.

Spikes are barely dry before being pulled out from beneath the radiator again. The mud that clings to club colours isn’t tough enough yet that you can’t get it out in one wash – but that’s coming.

It’s fair to say the London Cross Country Championships is probably one of those events that would be the first for the chop.

Over one hundred years young and traditional though it is, it’s for this same reason that its antiquated charm could lead to its demise by those devising the already rammed fixture list.

But history isn’t yet lost on the volunteers and grassroots aficionados making it happen. The races still play a vital role in the make up of many runners’ winters.

‘But history isn’t yet lost on the volunteers and grassroots aficionados making it happen.’

‘I’ve never contested the London Champs before but wanted to use it this year as a test of fitness, so I guess I would say it was on my hit list for that purpose!’ said this year’s London Cross Country champion, Stacey Ward.

The Herne Hill Harrier saw off the challenge of former champ Lara Bromilow and Ranelagh Harrier Nichola Jackson at the home of cross country, Parliament Hill.

She’s trained through all her races so far this winter – a winter that has taken in Met League races in Claybury and Stevenage, National Cross Relays in Mansfield and the Great South Run in Portsmouth.

Stacey’s is a winter that will ring true for many.

If it’s not the league races you’re charmed (or coerced) into competing in ‘for the team’, then it’s the relays, Cross Challenge or leading road events that everybody wants to be be on top form for – but nigh on impossible when you’re battling the inevitable colds doing the rounds too.

‘I’m a firm believer that racing frequently gets you into good shape, especially when you’re running on tired legs. It forces you to dig into the reserves you don’t necessarily know you have when you’re training and helps sharpen the competitive edge,’ says Stacey.

‘The Senior Men’s winner at Parliament Hill, Pete Huck, proved there’s always an exception to the rule.’

Too true – though the Senior Men’s winner at Parliament Hill, Pete Huck, proved there’s always an exception to the rule.

If the London Championships were on Stacey’s hit list, it was less the case for Pete, sidelined by patella tendonitis since the summer.

Pulling on his Run Fast colours for the first time this winter, Pete proved best-laid plans are often better tossed out the window.

A gun-to-tape win ahead of defending champ, Chris Smith and Heathside’s Tom Aldred, was just the tonic required to get his season on track.

‘I had planned to commit to the front group then sit in and not make any moves until the last lap depending on how I felt – and if I was still in contention,’ says Pete.

‘However, that all changed when Chris and I got a bit of a gap early on and sitting in wasn’t an option!’

‘You can’t hide in that race!’

Despite his convincing win at Parliament Hill, the Liverpool Cross Challenge will arrive too soon for Pete. If it weren’t for the London Champs yesterday, the chances are we wouldn’t have seen the Northern XC silver medalist in action this side of Christmas.

Stacey on the other hand continues on to Sefton Park, ‘not expecting anything’ but prepared to take on all and sundry.

‘You can’t hide in that race!’

You certainly can’t. You can’t hide in any – each one serves a purpose as Stacey and Pete prove.

With the quality and numbers turning out for an ‘also-ran’ race such as yesterday’s, cross country’s appeal certainly endures. There’s life in the congested calendar yet.

Words by Bo James