Saturday, 28 January 2012

A Basque Adventure

Running for England had been one of my big aims for 2012; I just never thought I would achieve it so early in the year. I had been selected to represent England in the Juan Muguerza Cross Country in Elgoibar, Spain. This fixture, first started in 1943, has grown to become one of the most competitive international events in the cross-country calendar with past winners including Paul Tergat, Kenenisa Bekele and Derartu Tulu.

England sent 4 teams (Senior/Junior Men and Women) and I was in the senior men’s team along with Jonathan Taylor, Jon Pepper and Phil Berntsen. On the Evening before the race, we all gathered in the town hall in Elgoibar for the elite athletes to be introduced and for past winners to be applauded – at least that's what I thought was going on, given my zero knowledge of Spanish meant just listing to the person on the mic without any comprehension of what was being said!

We arrived at the course in plenty of time for the race, allowing us to check the terrain and soak up the atmosphere of the event. A major European Cross Country is very different to what I’ve been used to in England, with the races including several laps (our race had 7 laps), huge television screens tracking the leaders, al lot of load music and bands and wall to wall commentary (again no idea of the context here!)

It was a great honour representing England and as a result I was slightly more nervous on the start line that I generally am before races. We opened with a lap of the track which, given I did 71 seconds and was already about 5 seconds off the front, gives an idea of the pace at the front. Having left the track, we headed out onto the cross-country section where all the previous races of the day had left the course very boggy. Despite appearing relatively flat, the course in fact had some nasty undulations and hills to test you. Each lap included a lap of the track which meant a huge amount of support from the crowd and playing band, it also meant running 300m on the track in 12mm spikes which felt a little odd.

The race was won by Paul Tanui in 32:25 and I finished 27th in 35:54. My team mates were: Jonathan Taylor 9th (34:19), Jon Pepper 15th (35:01) and Phil Berntsen 28th (36:00).

The whole event was a fantastic experience and a great introduction to international athletics.

Senior Men's Team (L to R): Phil, Jon,
Eamonn Martin (team manager), Jonathan, Andy

Friday, 27 January 2012

Cross Country Kick Off

2012 has kicked off with a busy January, racing every weekend. Racing so frequently is not some I generally plan to do, but due to the nature of the races and the shape I’m currently in, I’ve been happy with the busy schedule.

The Hampshire County Champs returned to the New Forest after a 2 year absence and, with former champions John Beattie and Lee Merrien lining up, it was going to be strong at the front. The course was 3 laps, measuring 12k in total, and took on all sorts of different terrains and undulations: a good cross-country course. Feeling good at the start, I settled into about 10th before working my way through the pack in to 3rd place by the time we reached the end of the 1st lap.

Throughout the 2nd lap, I was isolated with 1&2 a fair distance ahead. I did my best not to loose any ground on John and Lee, and continued to push the pace, convinced that 4th was still chasing close behind.

I lost my focus slightly towards the end of the race and the gap between myself and 1&2 widened significantly. Maintaining my focus during competition is still something I need to work on, and is another component of racing altogether. Bronze in the Hampshire Championships is my best ever position, and being beaten by two Commonwealth Games athletes I feel is no disgrace! WADAC took 2nd in the team competition missing out to Team Southampton by just 1 point.

London 2012 - Inspiration for us all

2012 – the year of London Olympics, an event that so many of Britain's most talented athletes have been working towards through dedicated training and effort for the past 4 or more years.

Britain has so many world class performers across all sports whom we can draw the inspiration from that has landed them at the pinnacle of their individual sports.

The positive and dedicated attitude of these athletes is something that I try to emulate in my own approach to the sport of athletics. Realistically I can only dream of toeing the start line of the London Olympic marathon, however we shouldn’t put a ceiling on what we can achieve. If you want something so much, then there is no reason why, through pushing yourself to the limit and committing yourself, you should not achieve that goal.

I have a number of aims for 2012 that I would like to complete; some are realistic while others are real stretch targets. I plan to track them here, follow the highs and the lows, and include various other snippets and thoughts from the world of running and sport.