Neil Featherby: Norwich Road Runners' Horsford Cross Country Series is a gem well worth discovering
This is the time of year when it always reminds me of my school cross country days.
As a kid I loved it and won a few races at area and county schools level, but then as I got older and became a senior athlete, for some reason I didn't enjoy it as much. Or better put, I have always loved running off road, but racing was something else.
Whilst I did okay in the local club and East Anglian mid-week races which I took part in, in truth it was the fear of the muddy courses where I knew I would get bogged down and any advantage I had on the roads through my long stride were well and truly nullified when it came to racing on heavy boggy courses.
Now looking back on it, I really regret not having done more as apart from cross country racing being brilliant conditioning for any endurance athlete, it can be great fun too.
One of the younger athletes who I coach, recently raced over a really tough course and was surprised by how hard he found it.
On the road, he too also has a really long stride and is pretty fast with it too, for which I had to explain to him the theory behind horses for courses whilst at the same time explaining to him why it is also important to race over a variety of differing courses.
Apart from all the strength and conditioning benefits of cross country running, it is also a great way to break up winter training as well as being a superb workout irrespective of the course or surface.
As it happens, this same athlete went on to win the Eastern Counties U20 title at Bedfordshire last Saturday and the course was anything, but a fast one, so all in all, it also proved how positive it can be to race over a variety of surfaces when it comes to being good on the country.
Anyway, and away from the more traditional cross country races, just as what has happened with the road racing scene during the last few years, more and more people are now also having a go and indeed are really enjoying the experience of running in a cross country race. For many of them, the muddier the better too.
With this in mind and talking of mud and speaking of more people discovering the enjoyment of running and racing off road, The Norwich Runners are now 15 years into their Autumn and Winter Horsford Cross Country three race series which was not only originally organised by Mick Powell, but he is still the race director to this day.
Each year the dates may vary a little, but the races will always take place sometime between November and February.
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However, and from those early beginnings and first few years of racing over what really was a super course consisting of a combination of long twisting wooded trails and undulations, things soon moved on whereby they added a few obstacles along with a very muddy section and the infamous stream or better known as the swamp.
I remember the first year when they did this and whilst my Boxing Day run is even crazier, I was not sure how the runners would react to what was indeed a bit of a surprise for some of them.
I hung around at the finish and even said to Mick Powell, I would not be surprised if you get one or two moans and groans today, especially on the back of some of the runners turning up assuming there hadn't been any changes to the course.
I could not have been more wrong though.
Despite everyone finishing absolutely soaked and covered in mud, they absolutely loved it and when the pictures went up on social media, the response was immense.
It really is another one of those little gem races tucked away in a fantastic part of Norfolk for which I do have to say, if you love running off road with a bit of fun and mud (not forgetting the water) mixed in and you haven't done one of these races as yet, then get yourself along to the next one for what I am sure will be an awesome way to get a lovely Autumn Sunday morning run in.
Refreshments are also so very readily available at the end of the races where they also donate money from their tea and cake stand to the Hallswood Animal Sanctuary, a cause which I am also very heavily involved with.
The next race in this season's calendar, is on Sunday, December 1, catering for those as young as under 13s right up to senior masters.
Entries are taken on the day starting at £2 for juniors, £3.50 for senior affiliated athletes and £5.50 for non affiliated runners.
"A wet, muddy and fun series with lots of thrills," is how the Norwich Road Runners Club describe it in their literature.
I have to say, they aren't wrong and that is putting it mildly. Well done to everyone who is involved.