Leeds Varsity Cross Country 2017 Race Report

Manchester Marathon 2017 training blog week 9/20

Regular readers will know that one thing that has changed for me in this winter/spring training block is that I’m running a lot more cross country, and with a strong showing at the remaining three races in our local cross league required to keep the Hyde Park Harrier boys in the top division, this isn’t going to change any time soon. With that in mind, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to go and get some more practice at West Park (the site of the local PECO cross league’s third race) in the shape of the Leeds Varsity Cross Country.

The course was the same as the one used for the Varsity relays the other week – a two mile course around West Park, but instead of just a quick smash before handing over to another member of the team, the ladies would be running two laps and the men three – closer in distance to the Yorkshire Cross Country Championships. With the promise of rescue donkeys and ponies in attendance (the race fees all went to a local rescue sanctuary), four Harriers paid the cheap as chips three pound entrance fee to take on the university boys and girls.

The race is part of an inter-university competition between Leeds Beckett University and University of Leeds, but is also open to any guests who want to come and compete. This means though that the fields for the races were very small as it is primarily just the cross country running clubs of two universities – probably thirty or so runners in each race at the most. This also meant, as we were soon to find out, that most of these runners were not messing around.

First up was Reena Mistry in the women’s race, fresh off being our fastest runner at the Yorkshire Cross Country. The course used at West Park is a great one as you can jog around a small part of the field and see the runners at several different places over the lap. It was very cold, but not too muddy – some ice and snow had melted making some of the turns a bit muddy, but unlike some other runners, Reena managed to stay upright around them!

As a relatively small cross race it isn’t a heavily marshalled course, and with some of the taping being ‘suggestive’, some of the cheering from us Harriers waiting for the men’s race was also needed to ensure Reena went the right way – with the incredibly strong Leeds Beckett and Uni of Leeds runners flying off around the course, this was entirely understandable!

Before the start we’d been joking that we were probably going to come last in all of the races, and that it was better just to accept it now, enjoy the race, and enjoy the fact that Hyde Park Harriers were the best represented local running club there. However Reena managed to finish ahead of several of the university athletes after a good run on what I would later find out was a deceptively tough course.

Lining up on the start line for the men’s race for Hyde Park were Matt Armstrong (one of our relay team on the same course), Angus and myself. With three laps to complete, we knew that this was going to be a tough race, and as soon as I got into my stride I realised that smashing myself for my fastest Parkrun for a while (17:47 and 3rd place) in the morning before a 2:30pm race is only a great idea if you are trying to get your excuses in early.

The standard of the field was soon obvious as a large pack of runners broke off ahead, leaving myself and a few others (mainly from University of Leeds) running behind. As a member of staff at Leeds Beckett, I was happy to see that purple vests were massing at the front when the course allowed me to see the front runners.

As mentioned the course was deceptively tough – constantly rolling up or down, with slippy corners and soft, if not muddy, ground throughout. I was enjoying my run out though, with that pack of myself and a handful of other University of Leeds runners fighting it out together, and I felt like I was really in the mix and showing the young lads how to run cross.

On a little out and back switchback on each of the laps I could see Angus behind me running well, although I was barely able to shout hi as I pushed hard around the course to stay in touch. Coming towards the end of the final lap I was racing against David, one of the Leeds runners I knew. The end of the lap came after that switchback, with the course bending right and heading up a slight incline before a sprint into the finish funnel. At the back of my mind I knew my legs were spent and that David was probably going to have a fast finish – which he did, absolutely destroying me over the final stretch, although some cheers from spectators for one of the other runners behind me spurred me on to sprint as fast as I could on my post-Parkrun legs to make sure I finished ahead of the rest of the group.

Turning around once I had finished burst my bubble about dishing it out with the university boys – as I cheered Angus in, it looked as though there was almost no-one behind me, bar the one or two other runners I beat from that group. Matt came in to finish a short while later with a few other runners coming in, including the final finisher who Angus told us had taken a tumble on one of the corners. This was a bit dispiriting, but this was not a race that attracts a wide range of abilities, from slower runners up to good club runners. In fact the average standard of the runners on show was probably better than ‘good club runner’, but it was a great chance to race against a super strong field.

And we met a rescue pony from Hope Pastures, so all in all a good day out!

See my run on Strava

Philip Goose

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