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