I became a member of a UK running club (Herne Hill Harriers) in September 2013 which represented exactly 10 years since I’d stopped being a club runner in 2003.
After around a year and half after having joined Herne Hill Harriers I entered the 2015 Surrey County Cross Country Championships and competed in my first county championship competition since 2003. I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed competing at the county champs again and it brought back a lot of memories and formerly held aspirations from yesteryear. As I gradually improved throughout 2015 and these memories came back I gingerly went back up to the loft in my parents’ house and dug out a dusty box of items that had sat up there since 2003.
One the first weekend of January every year up and down the UK counties hold their annual cross country championships. This competition is key for any aspiring cross country runner as the finishing places at the event often have a big determining effect on which 9 athletes are chosen by their county to represent their county team at March’s UK intercounties competition. The event effectively determines who are the big running dogs of the local area.
In January 2003 I came 11th at the Warwickshire county cross country championships and was shortlisted for the county team to run at the UK intercounties championships. This was a performance I was particularly delighted with as I’d taken part in 3 previous county championships and finished nowhere this every time finishing in the bottom half of the field.
Literally the day after the county championships (in 2003) I was walking from town back to home. It was naturally a cold winter evening so I decided to run home to get out the cold. On doing that I felt a very sharp pain in my knee which would not go away. This injury caused me to eventually leave the sport. I spent a year in rehab and after which I made a tentative failed come back 12 months later which resulted in me stopping running for good. Unfortunately the injury had come at a time I was just beginning to improve with my running and get it to a level I was starting to get reasonably happy with.
Dealing with the disappointment of not being a competitive runner anymore I packed up any medals I had along with results sheets and other mementoes and put them all in the loft so as not to see them or think about them anymore.
Towards the end of 2015 – as I was getting back into running again – I dug the box out my parents loft and revisited some very old memories. One item I came across was the letter sent to me by the Warwickshire county team manager confirming my selection for the 2003 team and I recalled my disappointment at not being able to run having earned my place and put so much work in to get better. As I began improving in 2015 so did my ambition and I told myself quite clearly that a measure of my success as a runner would be to earn a county vest and make up for that disappointment of many years ago.
Having defined my target my first shot as a senior at winning a county vest was January 2016 however I was unfortunately out with – ironically – a knee injury having been knocked off my bike a couple of month earlier. In 2017 I entered the Surrey County Championships but this time I was ill with the flu and had to drop out during the race. The following year I entered the Warwickshire County Championships which would prove to be a very nostalgic return to a competition I’d last competed in 15 years earlier.
Whilst during this winter – on the whole – I’d got a reasonable amount of training done however in the second half of December my health took a turn for the worse. I got a cold which would not budge and lasted for a good 3 weeks at least including a hefty sore throat. Around New Years-time I also picked up a stomach bug – which I seem to get about twice a year – which left me in bed for a few days.
Desperate to beat my county duck I decided I would still travel to Birmingham to take part as I couldn’t afford to wait another year to put my hat in the ring. Plenty of familiar faces were seen on arriving at the championship venue of Warley Woods including a former coach in Paul Hayes. I love the timeless nature of athletics competition and club runners as I enjoyed a chin wag with old coaches and competitors from 15 plus years ago.
Knowing I was still run down with the cold I knew I just had to go off as hard as I could ensuring the pace was at least sustainable. There was never a case of going off steady to hope I’d magically feel better half way round and then pick it up as I knew that was never going to happen with my cough and mucus strewn nose. The race was ran in conjunction with the Worcestershire County Championships and after the 1st lap of 3 I was in 17th place across the combined fields. In my head I thought I’d need to finish in the top 15 or so to give myself a chance of making the team.
Across the remaining 2 laps I gained on a number of athletes but was also overtaken by some as well. I finished in 16th place from the Warwickshire county finishers and whilst I thought I’d got myself into better shape than that my health, on the day, could only take me so quickly and as an effort I’d put a solid shift in.
It was later confirmed that I’d made the team shortlist. The team manager entered me into the race and I was down as a reserve. With athletes tending to be a bit flakey I was delighted when about 10 day before Intercounties I got the phone call saying I was in the racing team.
I was absolutely over the moon knowing I had now been picked to represent Warwickshire County at the prestigious UK Inter County Championships and earn a blue and green Warwickshire vest to wear with pride. It had taken me 19 yrs to achieve this goal from when I first entered my first County Cross County Championships and 15 yrs since I’d made the team initially as a reserve.
If this story isn’t one of persistence and sticking at it then I don’t know what is.