Sunday 30 October 2016

Kent Fitness League 2016/17: Knole Park

I've done a few training runs and races in Knole Park over the last few years, but this was the first time I had been in a position to run the Kent Fitness League cross country race here. I won't waste any time talking about the history of the building or the park as I have covered these details in previous posts:
After missing almost all of the previous season's races, I was fired up and ready to go by the time this race came around. I parked the car in the Sevenoaks Leisure centre car park (free-of-charge on Sundays), popped in to use the facilities, and headed into the grounds of the Knole Estate, which covers 1000 acres of beautiful parkland. It's stunning setting for a race and at this time of year the trees and foliage are looking great as their autumnal colours are starting to emerge.

knole park

The weather had been dry and fairly mild for the time of year so the ground underfoot was actually pretty firm and the course itself has a long section on a stony path, so I had brought my trail shoes with me rather than my spikes.

I met up with my Dartford Harrier team mates and the chat instantly turned to shoe choice. We had all sorts being used. I had already decided to wear my light trail shoes as I had come to the conclusion that as we had had barely any rain in the last month that the course would be dry enough for them. Plenty of other runners had gone for spikes - if the weather had been wetter I would probably have chosen spikes as well.

I soon set off for a warm up jog up to Knole House to find a toilet, and then back along The Gallops which is the valley that runs north-south along the western side of the park. 11 o'clock soon came around and after a quick team photo, the runners assembled for the start of the 2016/17 KFL cross country season.

dartford harriers

The start is at the northern end of The Gallops at the lowest part of the course. The first 300 metres are almost flat, but then the next 2km are all uphill, starting with a steep section that leads up to the level of Knole House. Here the runners run parallel to the wall that surrounds the formal garden. 

This eventually leads the runners onto the perfectly straight, central avenue of the park, Broad Walk. This path is all uphill and is where the gravelly path is found, however any runners that have opted for spikes can take to the wide grass verge on either side of this path.

The end of Broad Walk marks the end of the long uphill climb and after a curve at the southern tip of the park, the runners head down a very steep slope into The Gallops where they head north for about 400 metres before heading off to the left to go through a wooded section which lasts for about 600 metres.

around the course - the gallops and the short, sharp incline

Dropping back down into The Gallops, the runners soon rejoin the uphill section to start a second lap of the main loop. At the end of the second lap, the runners head back towards the start area which is now the finish.

My race: I lined up quite close the the front, but wasn't aggressive enough with my start and before I knew it I was trotting along at fairly sedate pace behind the hoards of runners that had streamed past me in the first 50 metres. By the time I reached the first short, sharp incline, I knew what a huge mistake I had made and had to now try to recover as many positions as possible.

I made good progress along Broad Walk where I made up quite a few places. Then as we went through the single track wooded section, I got caught behind some more runners that were slowing and had no choice but to wait until we rejoined the wider path in order to move in front.

around the course - section near the house

The second lap was much less congested, but the damage had been done. I continued to make up places during the second lap, but suffered a stitch during the last 2 kilometres, which I pushed really hard to get through. As I entered the final 400 metres I glanced to my left and saw some runners coming out of the woods at a different point to me. It turns out that a whole bunch had taken a wrong turning in the woods and added an extra half-mile to their races.

In the last 200 metres, I got involved in a crazy sprint finish with another runner, but it turns out that we unleashed our inner Bolts way too early. We both kept pushing really hard and as I crossed the finished line I was convinced that I was going to see my breakfast again. Luckily, I didn't. I recorded the route on Strava so if you're interested in that, you can find it here: Strava - KFL Knole Park 2016

I picked up my raffle ticket and saw that I finished in 100th position out of 561 which initially I was fairly happy with as my goal before the race was to finish in the top 100. However after thinking about my poor start and seeing how much difference even 20-30 seconds would have made to my finishing position, I became a little disappointed with my performance. Another runner I know, who I would have expected to have been very close to, finished almost 50 seconds ahead of me. That's what happens when you start poorly in a cross country race.

around the course - finish approach

Disappointment aside, I really had enjoyed the race. I've always known that cross-country races have very aggressive starts and I know how important it is to get a decent position early on, but somehow I managed to forget this detail whilst waiting for the race to start. I'm making a mental note for the rest of the season.

The amount of runners at this race was unprecedented and it looks like it has not only surpassed the previous highest attendance at this venue by more than 100, but it also became the highest attended race in the history of the Kent Fitness League, beating the previous record by 24. Usually the most popular event is at Swanley Park, so it's possible that we could see another attendance record in a few weeks time.

the finish area

The official results are now online, here: KFL - Knole Park 2016. I finished in an official time of 39.25 in position 100 overall. My gender position was 95th out of 371 and that gave me a rating/score of 74.66. The rating is based on the percentage of the field that a runner finishes ahead of - so I finished ahead of roughly three-quarters of the male runners and ahead of over 80% of the entire field, which doesn't seem so bad.

Lastly, the photos in this blog have come from many different sources and I have lost track of who took each one, so a big thank you to everyone that has been kind enough to take and upload the photos.

Link: For details on all of the Kent Fitness League courses please see this post: Kent Fitness League

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