This time last week I was bathing in the glory of being able to say: ‘I actually won something.’ Much can change in a week. It is no disrespect to the Broadway Tower Marathon to say Surrey League cross-country races are running on an utterly different level. They are not as muddy, hilly or long; instead, they are very fast and very competitive. Yesterday’s edition of the Surrey League was the 200th, with Richmond Park providing the fitting backdrop.
My Surrey League racing record is inglorious. When they come to write a history of these races, I won’t even be a footnote. Before yesterday, I had taken part in three races in two years, with a best placing of 57th. Such is the strength of Herne Hill Harriers, I have never made the club’s counting team. And, because of the nature of the way teams accumulate points, my presence does not reduce the totals of other teams. My running at these races – if I was being very hard on myself – is absolutely (and literally) pointless.
The 2012/13 competition is fiercer than last year’s, with Kent AC, Thames Hare & Hounds and Herne Hill battling to be the best. Fiercer competition means fiercer pace, and so close to 200 men hurtled away from the start line yesterday. The pace was fast; it’s always fast. It was probably a shade too fast for me. I ran the first mile – all downhill – in 5.08. The leading runners must have been touching 4.30. The course reared up to White Lodge, then down to Pen Ponds. A mile-long stretch of climbing then brought runners past the start line.
At this point, with a lap to go, I was already hanging on. There’s always someone about to pounce if you don’t maintain pace in these races, and six or seven would on that second lap. By the time I was climbing again, with less than a mile to go, my hamstrings were tightening with every step, my legs reminding me that they remembered the marathon. I mustered something that resembled a sprint finish and crossed the line in 75th position, one place higher than they my worst Surrey League race. You’re only as good as your last performance, is the well-worn expression: 1st last week, 75th yesterday. How the mighty fall!