This was the final race of what had been a very successful XC season for me. Two wins out of two in the New South Wales state champs (12k and 7.5k) and also some great races on the road in between put me as a favourite to win the National Champs in Tasmania. I ended up coming 2nd in a thrilling race, but if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t run the race as I should have done.
Tasmania had had a lot of rain in the days leading up to the race and this had made the course very wet in parts but most of it was pretty good going underfoot. On race day itself it was actually very sunny but there was a very strong wind. At breakfast me and Ken had discussed the plan and who to look out for and it was clear Mitch Brown was the main threat. There were a few big names missing from the start list which made it a huge opportunity for me to get my first ever national title. The plan was to relax for the first half of the race and then make a positive move at some point in the 2nd half to get clear. Mitch is a very talented runner – 28.52 for 10k and came 65th at the World Cross earlier this year – and so I knew he wouldn’t be easy to shake.
Once the gun went I found myself at the front of the field and actually pulling clear at the front after just 500m, without even really trying to. I think this was where the race went wrong for me. I felt so relaxed at that point that I could either have pulled away or relaxed and I chose the latter, which may have been the right decision but it meant I found myself at the front of a lead pack and even though I felt easy, I was still leading and sheltering the group into the wind. I should either have slowed right down and sat in the group, or made a move to get away. For the next 6k I found myself pulling a group round that included Mitch Brown, Russ Chin for a while (who did lead for 400m to be fair!) and Dave Thomas, who I had never raced or heard of before and was a local Tasmanian.
Once we hit the halfway mark I decided that the 3rd 3k loop I wouldn’t relax any more and would try to pull away, and I very nearly did at a couple of points but they would always fight back onto me when we hit the string wind and it started to dawn on me that I wasn’t going to be able to drop Mitch and Dave easily and I could have a real fight on my hands. I think I was so confident that I thought I could do damage when required, but once I couldn’t get away on the 3rd lap, I knew I was in trouble.
On the 4th and final lap, Dave Thomas hit the front and tried to do what I had attempted in the previous lap. Mitch went round me and followed him and I tucked in behind and the exact same scenario occurred: Dave got a small gap at a couple of points but never enough. When we hit the last 1k Dave had realised he couldn’t dropped us so went wide a on a bend to tuck in behind me and now Mitch found himself at the front. There are a couple of ditches to jump in the last 1k, the last one being with 300m to go. Just before the 2nd ditch, Mitch broke to the front and jumped right over it. I tried to do the same but sort of landed on the bank and had to scramble up it. Mitch was already gone and I knew I wouldn’t catch him now but I wasn’t going to let 3rd slip away easily. I could tell Dave was on my shoulder and I hammered it as hard as I could to the line. Mitch actually stumbled in a puddle with 150m to go but despite me working my mental powers as hard as I could he didn’t stumble to the floor which is what it would have taken for me to get past him! The crowds were screaming at us as we all hit the finishing tape. Mitch won in 38.39 with me 3 secs behind and Dave just 1 sec behind me. 4th place was 45 secs behind.
Mitch definitely ran the smartest race, only leading for the last 1k, and Dave probably ran the race he needed to to have a chance of winning. Dave had the race of his life, being a 29.50 10k runner. I was pretty angry with myself for leading for 9k and not slowing down to whatever pace was required to sit behind the group. I ran a poor race and I think it came from a combination of my instinct to run hard and also a bit of inexperience at winning XC races. As Amelia said to me afterwards, when I’m annoyed with myself for coming 2nd in a National champs, over cross country (she calls me a pretty pony for not liking mud, water, ditches etc) then I know I’m doing ok. This is true, and 2nd place is still a big leap for me and it caps off a great season. Everyone keeps telling me I should be pleased but I think it’s good to be irritated with myself – it means I won’t make the same error again (hopefully!) and will want it even more next time.