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Southern Counties Cross Country 2022, Beckenham Place Park - Neil & John

You wait ages for a race report and then two come along at once, for that same race!

Thanks to Neil Hutchison and John Brosnan for sending their accounts of the Southerns through. Great to see two takes on the same day...


As somewhat of a QPH outsider these days (having moved out of the big smoke some time between lockdowns 1 and 2 to live by the seaside), I jumped at the opportunity to race again in a hooped vest. Cross Country is my favourite discipline in running, and, though I do love most other races, there is something in XC that stands out for me, be it the parity of shoes, the almost entirely club atmosphere, the less time-trailly feel (ie checking the watch throughout/ average pace per mile that comes with flat road races). With XC, you are basically racing the people around you whilst tackling what terrain is thrown at your feet by the organisers. If your team is big enough (sadly ours was not) there may even be position counters for team rankings, meaning that every place on the day is important! I was met on arrival by a cheerful team, Bill (non running), Mark, John, Adrian and Gildas and a big QPH flag, one of many club flags making up the seemingly medieval pre-battle encampment scene.

The men’s course, 15,000m, consisted of one short loop followed by four meandering loops of Beckenham Park, through forest walks, long grassy fields, gravelly paths and even a picturesque lake. I anticipated there would be hills involved, as I’d been to Beckenham park once upon a time to do hill reps and swim in the lake! Unlike the Middlesex XC earlier in Jan, this race was fairly dry under foot, and slightly clay-like in patches.

The mass start started and 685 runners charged forwards to a sharp right bend, the start is one of my favourite parts of the race, you can really feel the ground shake, the adrenaline is up. It was everyone’s fastest km I reckon! We soon stretched out into a narrower snake-like shape for the next hour or so of gritting teeth, working hard, taking someone on the hill, to be taken back again on the other side.

It felt hard, all in all about 200m climb with one part being about 1km of elevation, which you had to do 4 times. Actually the hardest part of a 4 lap race is probably when you hit a part that you really don’t like on lap 1, and you then have to anticipate the same bit 3 more times!

The final push to the finish was, of course, at the top of a hill. My personal rival throughout the race, a chap who races for a club in Brighton, managed to pip me to the line. He was definitely better than me at these climbs, but I was better at the descents! I managed to cross the line and take my first glance at my running watch that I had done all race to see that i’d finished inside the hour in 56-low - later I found out that I was in top 25%. Chuffed.

I was soon joined at the finish by Mark, John, Adrian and Gildas to discuss the twists and turns and how each of our own races went.

Photo credit: Leonard Martin


Race day begins for me on the journey there. For a change I would be early and had arranged to meet Mark Greig at Blackfriars. It's great to have company as by the time you have set the world to rights you have arrived at your destination. Ours was Beckenham, which was hosting the 15km Southern Counties Cross Country race. Typically, it is held in Hampstead Heath but because Parliament Hill is holding the Nationals this year an alternative venue was chosen.

Bill was there ahead of us with the flag in prime position. Unfortunately we had no ladies running so Mark and I walked the course instead. A former golf course, beer and food was being heartily served from the old club house, it had an artificial lake for bathing and a wooded area with a long gravel track running through it. With the ground dry this was a course more suited to trail shoes than spikes.

By the time we went back to Bill the rest of the team had arrived: Adrian Boylan, Neil Hutchison (and his family) and Gildas. Neil lives in Worthing these days but clearly has plenty of nous when it comes to cross country. Rather than look for a space in the car park or neighbouring street he drove straight into the park and parked right by the flag! Bill had a couple of surprises for him though. Medals from two years ago and a lovely miniature QPH vest for his little one. We start them young in Queens Park!

Photo credit: Leonard Martin

The race itself was hard and fast but good fun. We had to do one small loop and four laps of a longer loop on hilly terrain. By the time we were on our third lap the sun was setting and was in your eyes as you took on the steepest climb on the course. On the final lap I couldn't see anything at all on that climb.

Photo credit: Leonard Martin

The other noteworthy mention from the day was seeing John Gilchrist, a Harrier from last year running. Apart from the change in club colours you could barely recognise him with his new tash!

If this wets your appetite there is one Chiltern League left in a few weeks followed by the Nationals.


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