The Euro Cross is always a very strong race at the front end and very competitive. Last year in Portugal I was 29th and 3rd Brit home, my aim was to build on that performance and hopefully break into the top 20 this time round. Qualifying for the event was very tough and the trial in Liverpool was pretty close, only 10 seconds separated all 6 of us so we knew we would have a great chance of a team medal.
On the Saturday we had a walk round the course to see what it was like and much to my surprise it was very dry, no hills and no obstacles to jump. It was just very twisty and turny and multiple laps. This was great for me as I’d been hoping all week that there wouldn’t be too much rain as i didn’t fancy a muddy slog. It didn’t bother me too much if it was soft as when you’re in good shape you can run on any course. So I went back to the hotel on the Saturday evening feeling pretty confident I could perform to the best of my ability.
Race day came round and I was pretty annoyed as i’d forgotten my Weetabix! I had to make do with crappy European muesli instead. It wasn’t the end of the world though, there will be times when I have to eat different types of food before a race so sometimes it’s good to try other things.
We set off to the course around 12pm, a 30minute drive, and the race started at 2:30. We managed to catch the U23 mens race when we got there so it was good to shout Wilko and see him do so well getting 2nd after his fall in the trial. While I was warming up I seen Gemma Steel, who trains in my group, get 3rd in the womens race- a great result for my coach John. We had a lot to live up to as every GB team had picked up at least a gold or a silver team medal so the pressure was on us!
We all had our own individual goals and different race plans and none of us really spoke about how we’d run the race. I imagine the lads all spoke with their coaches to discuss how to run it. John usually leaves it up to me to decide unless he feels I should run a race in a certain way. I learned a tough lesson earlier in the year at the World Cross and got carried away early on and died a slow death. At the time, I though to myself I never wanted to do that to myself again as I felt embarrassed. That was the last time I pulled on a GB vest so I wanted to make up for it to myself.
I set off conservatively mid pack, I think I was around 45th after the first 500m. We had 2 small laps of 500m to navigate followed by 6 longer laps of 1500m making 10,000m. The plan was to just try and pick my way through the field in the first few longer laps then hold my position in the later stages. I sat tight for the first km and then as we started the longer laps I began to push on. After 2.5km I was in 36th and feel nice and relaxed, the following lap I was in 32nd and then I moved onto 30th at 5500m, just passed the halfway stage.
At this point I was still feeling in control and I was running with Walshy in my sights. We both seemed to have had similar game plans and were moving through well. There wasn’t a 7km split on the results so i’m unsure as to where I was but there was a group of lads not far ahead of me running together but I was finding it tough to get on terms with them. I felt like I was constantly upping the pace but so were they.
With 1 lap to go I was in 20th position and the group were within touching distance, 10 athletes only 6 seconds in front of me. Having been completely deaf for most of the race and not hearing anything I somehow heard the commentator say that GB were in 4th position and 2 points away from the medals and 1 point ahead of Italy in 5th. Just what I needed to hear as it gave me something extra to fight for.
I made a real effort on that last lap to get onto the back of the group which was now starting to string out as people were making breaks for home within the last mile. I finally got up with Walshy just before the downhill and gave him a shout telling him we were 2 points from the medals. As I said it, he just surged hard. Clearly it worked! I remember doing that back in 2007 to Tom Lancashire, telling him we needed to beat Poland and we both ended up getting beating a Polish athlete on the last lap and that won us the team gold.
I knew where 400m to go was and I could just see a line of athletes and here I was with 1 minute of running left knowing I could get some of them. I started to increase the leg speed, got the arms working. I got round a couple athletes just before we hit the tight turns and I was pretty much eyes balls out at this point sprinting. I got 3 more in the S-bend and then as I came off the last corner I seen an Italian starting to wobble in the last 80m and I found something extra to get him on the line coming home in 13th overall.
It was an anxious wait for the scoreboard to be updated. I thought we’d done enough to get the bronze but to see Great Britain in 2nd was fantastic. We’d all ran well as a team and got rewarded with a team medal.
The other finishing positions were 9th for Andy Vernon, 15th for James Walsh, 22nd for Mark Draper, 25th for Andy Baddeley and Frank Tickner, for the 3rd time, was 37th (2007, 2010 and now 2011). Maybe he should put that in his lottery numbers?
Obviously I was delighted with my own performance, and even more so with the way I achieved it as I’m not usually a ‘come through the field’ type runner. It’s a great reward for the work i’ve put in this side of Christmas and sets me up nicely for the start of a new year. I think next time i’m in a competition like that I’ll be a little more aggressive in my race tactics but sometimes you have to take little steps before you take big ones. I wanted to run a smart race and come away with confidence and I feel I did that at the weekend.
I do think that the senior men have taken some unnecessary criticism though. France had 4 athletes home in the top 12 and a team total of 34 points. Unless we had Mo and Thommo picking up individual medals we were not winning against that French quartet on Sunday. As team we got the best possible result, we were 2nd best on the day and that’s the reward we got and as you can tell i’m pretty proud of it! In the last 11 years GB senior Men have only won 3 team medals, a bronze and 2 silvers. Both times they won silver Mo Farah was on the podium. We had a relatively young team and no doubt we’ll all be back gunning for gold next year when we’re all stronger and faster.
Anyway enough of the negativity. Next up for me is an outing in the famous Saltwell 10k road race on Saturday. It’s England oldest road race and it’s a special one this year. It’s the 100th running of it and it’s also a race which is important to my family with my dad winning it 16 years on the trot back in the stone age. After that I’ll be getting some hard work in over Christmas and the answer is yes, i’ll be training on Christmas day. It’s a Sunday so i’ll have to get out for a long run!