Mark Armstrong: Ready for a XC voyage into the unknown

Action from the Norfolk Cross Country Championships. Picture: Mark Hewlett

Action from the Norfolk Cross Country Championships. Picture: Mark Hewlett - Credit: Archant

As I prepare to take my position on the start line of the Norfolk Cross Country Championships on Sunday the doubts have started creeping in. 

I’m not a cross country runner. 

I’ve only owned a pair of trail shoes for three months. 

I probably should have bought some spikes... 

Just a few thoughts that have been whirring around my head this week (as well as working out what day of the week it is and whether my daughter, Lara, needs her PE kit for school today...) 

Never one to do things by halves, my cross country debut will be at the biggest race our county holds. 

I will be completing (hopefully!) three loops of Earlham Park in what is looking like wet and cold conditions, which is going to be a real test of fitness, both physically and mentally.  

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Work commitments have meant that a course recce has been impossible and I’m having to rely on my wife, Alison’s limited recollection.  

I got more information about the coffee she had afterwards with some of her Wymondham AC team-mates but I did manage to extract that each lap is just over two miles, so not setting off too fast is key (isn’t it always?). 

Personally, whenever I think of Earlham Park I go back to my university days, chasing rabbits after having one or two too many snakebite and blacks at the LCR...  

That’s not going to be much help to me so no real experience how my pace will be affected by the terrain, I will focus on running to feel and ignore my watch. This is running... but certainly not as I know it. 

Without a doubt this will be an exciting event and one I’m honoured to be taking part in.  

I’ve really enjoyed covering the last couple of events at Thetford as it’s one of the only races when Norfolk’s great and the good all compete against each other. 

I must admit though that my abiding memory from both occasions is the extent some of the youngsters push themselves in the junior races. 

Several were physically sick as they crossed the finish line and I can’t help wonder if the same thing will happen to me. At least with the race not being until 1.30pm for the seniors then breakfast should be well and truly digested! 

I can’t help but feel I’ll be completely out of my depth, but the cross country community seems very welcoming and encourages all ages and abilities. 

I’m not as fit as I’d like to be – I had a good Christmas with all the food and alcohol that entails. I’ve been a good boy for the most part so far this year but we are only a week into 2022... we've all got to start somewhere. 

I'm undercooked, but there’s no point complaining about it - ‘you are where you are’ as Neil Featherby has pointed out to me on numerous occasions when I have bemoaned my fitness level. 

My running year isn’t going to be defined by what happens on Sunday. It’s a stepping stone to what I hope will be a decent half marathon on the road in a couple of months' time when I’ve hopefully put a decent block of training together. 

Great things never came from staying in our comfort zones and I will firmly be out of mine this weekend. 

I’m terrified and can’t wait in equal measure. 

Good luck to anyone that’s running on Sunday – let’s make it memorable! 

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