The race coincided with the Storm Angus weekend, which brought with it heavy rain and winds gusting at 50mph or so. Fortunately the worst of the storm had passed by the time the race started and despite being very cold while hanging around beforehand, the conditions for racing were spot on. The rain had made sure we had plenty of mud to play in and the woods provided shelter from the remaining gusts of wind.
After the previous weekend's cross country race at Swanley, my calves had been left in tatters, so I was a little nervous about running in my cross country spikes again incase they made them even worse. However the conditions seemed right to choose the spikes over my standard trail shoes, and as my calves had been sore all week, I started the race quite conservatively.
The course here consists of the start and finish area on the large, open grass area (Oxleas Meadows) at the bottom of the hill, and the rest of the race run in two separate sections of the woods with a little gap in between where the runners pass the cafe at the top of the hill - this is great because it allows spectators to hang out near (or in) the cafe (also has toilets) and pop out to cheer and then get back in the warm if they prefer.
So, back to my expectations. In November 2014 I ran this race in 39.45 and at the same time I was running 5k in just over 19 minutes. On the day of the 2016 race I was capable of running 5k about a minute slower than that, so I worked out that I should expect to complete the race in just over 41 minutes. I lined up quite close to the front, but not so close that I'd be forced to go off very fast - remember, my calves were of concern to me.
By the time we reached the top of the hill and weaved around to the entrance to the woods, things were pretty congested. The next couple of kilometres, run on mostly fairly narrow trail paths through the woods were a little slow and even featured a few points where the sheer number of runners meant that we were forced to slow to walking pace. This first section of woods features the steepest of the inclines.
As we went into the second section of woods, the field had spread out enough to allow runners to maintain their preferred paces. My main memory of this section was the stunning yellow and orange leaves of the trees which created a beautiful glow above our heads. At the end of this section of woods, the runners pop back out onto Oxleas Meadows and head back up the hill for a second lap.
The conditions underfoot were soft and muddy, but not quite as splashy as it was the last time I raced here. Wearing spikes was the right decision, but there were some stony paths and tree roots to keep an eye out for. With the congestion gone, the second lap was much more enjoyable and I was pleased with my last couple of kilometres, where I managed to catch and pass a few other runners.
My calves, while sore, were just about behaving themselves, but I was still happy to exit the woods for the last time and head towards the finish. Once across the line, I was handed my raffle ticket, which had number 117 on it. This was upgraded to 116 out of 428 (gender placing: 105/291) in the official results. I was given an overall rating/score of 64.26.
I was disappointed as I seem to be going backwards in terms of overall placing this season (100th, 103rd, and now 116th). Still, there was a silver lining in the fact that my finishing time was recorded as 40.03 which is only 18 seconds slower than my time from 2014. To see the course in detail please take a look at my GPS file on Strava - Kent Fitness League: Oxleas Wood 2016
My wife and daughter had come to support me and they were waiting at the finish line with some warm clothes for me to put on, which was absolutely essential as it was freezing out on that field. After a brief period congratulating and chatting to my running buddies, it was time to get out of the cold so we headed off back to the car which was parked on Rochester Way (adjacent to the start/finish area).
With the third race of the season completed, there is a short break as the usual December fixtures have been moved to January. It's a good opportunity to get in some more training or have some rest before part two of the season gets underway in January, which I'm really looking forward to.