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Blog: Steve Naylor – Battle in the mud


Hello everyone and I hope you are all fit & well.

Well it’s February which means that the cross country season is in full flow. For me, January general begins with the County Championships and ends in an epic mud bath at the South of England Championships, during which there is a Chiltern League fixture.

After a lovely Christmas break (I did get out on Christmas Day just to help make room for the food and beer to come that day) and much muddy running in the Yorkshire hills, I was all set to defend my Oxfordshire County Title for the 4th consecutive year but the weather had other ideas. Last year the snow played havoc and this year the rain decided to throw a curve ball. With too much rain already causing Oxford to resemble an Island, the decision was made to cancel our County Champs on Health & Safety grounds. So it was off to the pub and a weekend of contemplating taking up canoeing followed. Thankfully it was only a short wait before the Chiltern League fixture was upon us and a much needed race. Whilst I don’t race as much as some, after a good block of winter training, a race is certainly needed to help see what shape you are in. The race at Slough was my first since early December so I think it was fair to say I was itching to go. A victory in the race and overall lead in the series were my rewards, not to mention a big shock at the complete lack of mud in Slough.


Next up was the el classic that is called the Southerns. For the men this is a 15km slog around Parliament Hill in London. Three times I have raced there now and three times I have come away unable to distinguish shorts from legs and legs from shoes…..the mud finds a way everywhere! The start resembles the charge of the light brigade up huge muddy hill that would be not be out of place in a WW1 battlefield. The main contenders (all of whom are great endurance runners and generally of GB quality) take to the front and soon stamp their authority whilst making light work of the mud. It’s also a team event so medals are up for grabs which means vocal support from the side-lines from team members is very evident. This in itself acts as great incentive to keep going as whilst you know it gets harder with each muddy step, you are spurred on by the shouts of “every place counts” and “you can do this.” Every man in the team fights for a position as it’s the first six in the team who count towards the competition and quite often your sixth man to finish can determine the colour of the medal. I battled round to finish in 9th, having been as high as 5th before a tumble cost me some places but Bedford & County came home in Silver position so the hard work and grimaces were replaced with smiles and jubilation by the time we collected our medals. And whilst I talk about the fight at the front for Southern supremacy, I know of people who were attempting the Southerns for the first time. Whilst the start is not like an ascent of Everest, it could easily unnerve those who aren’t quite sure what’s over the other side. I applaud everyone who gets round the 15km course and whilst they say they will never do it again, I’m sure they will return again to the fields of Parly Hill in years to come.

January is a busy period for most cross country runners especially the juniors who also have their school county championships thrown into the middle of the fixture list so many congratulations to everyone who takes part in those. For me personally, this what we train for and in January the emphasis for me is less on hard training but more on preparation and sharpening up for the big races to come (that for some could be every week). By this part of the winter season we don’t tend to move the sessions on too much as looking back at the diary it is clear to see that we have already moved on since October. This is another good reason for keeping a diary as it’s good to be able to look back at the season to see just exactly where you are now compared to a few months ago.

Anyway, good luck to those in upcoming races and don’t forget to sample the tea & cake!