ERR XC Challenge Report by Nick Sheard

EA XC Challenge (November 2020)

Growing up in Leeds in the 70s and 80s, school cross country races were a winter Wednesday afternoon rite of passage.

The whole year group would set off in inadequate gym shoes, shorts, and skimpy ‘house’ t-shirts in weather that was usually mildly arctic or at a minimum blowing semi-horizontal stinging sleet-rain. Staying upright throughout the 18 – 25 minutes of the 2.5 mile course was considered a victory in itself, with cambered mud-filled trenches round rugby pitches and gnarly root-strewn uneven woodland paths. And if those didn’t bring you down then a stray elbow or leg from a rival ‘house’ member usually did. The ‘sprint finish’ was invariably a shin-high splatter through enormous pools of standing water towards a finish line where the participants, by this point all mildly hypothermic, were greeted by a cheerless sports teacher with a stopwatch and a blunt ‘You took your time’ or ‘What took you so long?’ or ‘You were beaten by xxxxx!’ Needless to say, I loved it, and have had a soft spot for the format ever since.

Fast forward to November 2020, and the ERR version of the England Athletics cross country challenge. 17 club members took part throughout the second half of November, with a total of 5 opportunities (Wednesdays and Sundays) to register a cross country time on an off-road course of their choosing over 3.5, 5, 8, 10, or 12km. The aim was to get faster over 5 runs, or to experiment with different pacing strategies over different course lengths. A special mention for Laura (Hutchins Payne) who completed the maximum possible 5 runs. Laura (Leach) and Graham (Bridges) showed the fastest pacing times, if not a totally clean pair of heels? Laura also posted my personal favourite ‘absolute mudfest’ photo on Strava. Who managed the most spectacular fall (with soft landing) we’ll let the whispering grass decide. As for me, I chose the 12km option and made two attempts at the distance on the same undulating course in Wytham Woods on consecutive Sundays. The first attempt I was 44 seconds over the hour for the distance, so set myself the target of a sub-60 circuit second time around. I’d like to say it was never in doubt, but those who bore witness to my demented form slithering up and careering down the trails in the final 2km would testify that it was anything but. Inov8 Mudroc shoes, thank you! Thanks also to Jacky (Pinnock) for organising the adventure and to everyone who took part I say a hearty well done, and what mudlarks we had.