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National XC Championships – Sunderland – 23 February 2013

Jason Sotheran reports on a great day for WACers at the Nationals.

Tom, Jason, Piers and Charlotte (l-r, back row) with Jess and Grace
kneeling in the snowy conditions at Sunderland

Leaving home at 7am on Friday morning it was bitterly cold – at least it felt like that at the time, and as I sat down in the Bourne’s Ford Galaxy I found it hard to imagine how any of us would escape the looming boredom of the journey ahead. Then Zoe told me a certain something that kept the laughs coming all day long, even if those laughs were at poor Charlotte’s expense!

In all honesty the journey wasn’t too bad, we all held a great feeling of anticipation for what was to come on Saturday and with a few stops to fill up with our athlete’s diet of Burger King and Costa the seven hours felt closer to four or five.

Arriving at the hotel, once we’d found it in the labyrinth that is Gateshead Quays in Newcastle, I don’t think anyone could quite believe it – not even Simon, and he’d made the booking! It was a 5 star Hilton overlooking the Tyne Bridge – I had never seen anywhere like it in my life. There was a fountain out front and more flat screen TVs than you could shake a stick at all around the place. Our rooms were probably about the size of my house and we all took advantage of the free drinks in the little fridge. The receptionist booked us a cab to an Italian restaurant just across the bridge for our all important pasta meal in the evening and we went out into the city for a bit of shopping. As you do.

After that Tom, Zoe, Jess and I headed for the indoor heated pool, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna in the Hilton – which in my mind is now essential pre-race preparation.

We went out and I probably had the best Italian meal I’ve ever had and was feeling incredibly blessed out to witness the funniest thing ever. I’m simply not going to try and explain it but when the Bourne’s read this they’ll know what I mean by ‘LAAAA LA LA LA LAAAA!!!’

We all slept really well, and I would’ve stayed there forever in that bed if it wasn’t for Charlotte banging on the door at 6:30 on a Saturday morning to alert us to the fact that the world had turned white. Snow! Charlotte and Jess’ childlike love for that beautiful white powder was no different to that of a five year old and I have to say that I love the snow too, but the consequences of it soon dawned on us all – it was going to be a really cold one!

We arrived at the track in five inches of snow all around and before we knew it Charlotte’s race was off and despite having just come back to X-Country last week, she gave a good account of herself, leaving a good number of athletes from around the country behind her on her way to the finish.

Unfortunately as Charlotte was finishing Piers and I were all ready well into our warm up, and I was feeling me three-course breakfast a bit more than I would have liked. However, having had so much help to get up there I thought it best to ignore such a trivial issue.

It felt like an eternity before the gun fired, but when it did Piers and I both got good starts and as I went round the first bend in about 40th place and as I opened up my stride down a slight slope something clicked and I just felt great. One by one I picked through and kept about 30 metres from the leaders for about the first 3k. Then there was a right turn, one that I definitely hadn’t taken in my walk round! Next were 300 of the toughest, coldest metres I’ve ever ran as the icy rain and biting winds smashed you around along the treacherous uphill stretch. On the other side we skirted a lake and went through a slalom surrounded by trees, then, somewhere above me I heard the voice of Mark screaming ‘200 left Jas, go on!’ and out of somewhere I found a bit extra and made four places up to 16th, having gone in hoping for top 50 and with Piers coming in at 59th it was a very good day for us U15 lads.

Jason and Piers – a job well done

Soon after Gracie got underway and she had an incredible start, up to 10th immediately after the best part of 300 runners left the pens. For a long time she stayed right up there but you could see the snow underfoot had now turned into a continuous, muddy ice bath underfoot and each stride was harder than the one that preceded it and though she dropped back to 19th that was an incredible achievement and no less than she deserved after an incredible race – she certainly left it all out there!

Grace gave 100% – as usual!

Then began the waiting, as poor Tom had the unenviable task of running in the last race of the day. By this point the muddy slush was well over ankle deep on the course and you could tell that even his new compression socks probably couldn’t save him from an even tougher race than the rest of us had been through on the day. The time was coming and everyone had begun to take up their spectators’ positions for the final race, unfortunately this included Tom’s mum, accidentally taking Tom’s spikes with her! The panic that followed was unbelievable and after even a tannoy message failed to find her we feared the worst for ‘Fuzzball’ – then just as it seemed all hope was lost I found Tom at the start line, spikes on and ready to go.

Tom in the pack

He, like Gracie, got a superb start and also found himself in and around the top 10 from the start. Although the race was only 3k, a sprint by his standards, Tom struggled to deal with the conditions because what is ankle deep for most of his competition is knee deep for others! Nevertheless he kept going, when the going gets tough, the tough get going and he found an impressive finish to hold 21st over the line.

In summary, Sunderland was a horrifically cold day up North on an incredibly tough course surrounded by incredibly tough opposition.  But one where WAC did themselves well and truly proud and I felt privileged to wear that red vest in such brilliant company – thank you all so much! Furthermore it was all worth it, all the travelling and the pain and the panic – I know I said this about Parliament Hill but I would do it all again tomorrow if I could (especially the Italian restaurant!). We travelled 300 miles and more to run about 3, but I couldn’t care less.

A big ‘Thank you’ to the Bournes for a great weekend.

Jason

 

 
 
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