Well, I don't think I could have asked for a better first experience in a GB team! I finished 22nd overall achieving my own personal target of a top 25 finish, I picked up a bronze medal in the mens team event and Great Britain had their best ever European Cross Country Champs! Every British athlete that went to the championships won a medal and Britain dominant the medals table.
Below is a diary of my trip...
Thursday 11th December
Travelled to London, a day in advance of the teams Journey to Brussels and arrived mid afternoon at the Hotel. The U20 teams and a small number of athletes that also had to travel from outside London were staying in the hotel. The U20 men and womens team were using the extra day as a pre-trip get together ahead of the championships. No training for me this afternoon, trained in the morning before I set out. Had dinner with team in the evening before an early night.
Friday 12th December
Up at 8am for a 8.30 group run. Hotel is right outside Regent Park, a nice traffic free location with lots of recreational runners out for their morning runs too. First time I've worn the kit for a run, it feels good :-) Late morning - bus to St Pancrass where we meet rest of team before catching the Eurostar out to Brussels, arrive at the hotel early evening. Was looking forward to getting some dinner before a team meeting until I receive a phone call to say I have been selected for a random drugs test. This takes the form of a blood test, samples are being taken to build up a bigger picture of what normal bloods levels in elite distance runners should look like so they can identify the drug cheats. Unfortunately there are lots of people being tests and I end up missing the chance for an early dinner and the team meeting.
Saturday 13th December
After breakfast all the teams (all countries are staying in the same hotel) are bused to the course. We walk the course and discussed the start, spike lengths and the pen order (each team is assigned a starting pen which is approx 2metres wide) Teams of 6 have to line the athletes up, normally 2-2-2 but we decide on 2 in front and one just behind. As I finished 3rd in the trials I get the position just behind the front 2 - I guess that makes me the Teddy Sheringham of Cross Country! The start looks like its going to be muddy! although most of the course is generally very hard underfoot today as it's been very cold but when it thaws out I think that will change. The course is a well established crosss country course and is renowned for being muddy. Our race is 7 laps (1 x 1000m lap and 6 x 1500m lap) of a narrow and twisty course - something of Belgium speciality, they love their cross country running here. After walking the course we get a short run in to stretch the legs and then the bus back to the hotel. Rest of day is spent relaxing and early to bed. Starting to get mind into race mode now, can't wait to get out their running now. Part of me wants it to be cold tonight so that the course stays firm, but I'm also confident that I can run well whatever the conditions.
Sunday 14th December - Race Day.
Up early for a short 15min jog and a couple of strides to get the body moving. After Breakfast I spend a few hours relaxing in the room (I'm sharing with Phil Wicks - another of the senior mens team). We get the last bus from the Hotel at 12.30pm arriving at the course just before 1pm, unfortunately that means we miss the two U20 races but the main priority is staying warm before the race, hence the latest possible bus. Conditions aren't as cold as yesterday though and after a number races on a well used course we realise that longer spikes options are needed. I spend the next hour sat in the athletes tent ( there is a large marquee with designated sections for each nation) keeping warm and focusing on the race. Unfortunatley our section is next to the TV which is showing the race so our coaches and physios spend some of their time fending off other nations from steeling our chairs! One of the spanish athletes doesn't take to kindly to this and proceeds to try and repeatedly kick Nick! (who is the senior mens team manager) the spaniard doesn't get the chair though!
2.05pm time to start the warm up, race isn't until 3.05 but their is call procedure 20mins before the race. I do a full warm up before going into the call room as the starting area is very muddy by now and won't be good for running. We get our number for the front of our vest in the call room as these contain a timing chip in them so that lap times and finishing position can be easily recorded. 10mins to go and we go out onto the course - the mud is worse than I thought - I dare not stand still for too long for fear of my shoes being sucked off - I have taped them round my feet to be safe! 2mins to go... I remove my last item of clothing covering my competition kit and throw it over to Nick, we line up in the pen as agreed, less than a minute to go we all start finding a good foot hold and await the starting gun. Its very sticky mud in the pens and I realise that I need to stand on my toes otherwise my feet start sinking further into the mud, Scott Overall (6th team member) gives us a count down to the starting gun -I presume that he can see the clock. The guns goes and everyone fires out of the starting pens, the 85 other sets of elbow along with a tight left turn only a 100m into the race means keeping your wits about you but soon enough I feel settled into the race. I manage to hold a consistant position of between 18th to 26th throughout most of the race and find that other than a couple of especially soft sections that underfoot conditions aren't too bad on the rest of the course. The course is definately challenging though and 15mm spikes were the right choice! The crowd support is excellent and there are many British supporters lining the course who have travelled to watch. During the last lap I hear some instructions from Mick - one of the GB coaches about my position and I manage to muster up one last effort over the last 400m or so passing 2 or 3 athletes in the process. (I hear later that Mick has been shouting a lot of feedback during the race and most of the content isn't the sort that can be repeated!)
I cross the line and my hands drop to my knees, I know I've given it my all thats for sure after what feels like an age I stagger over into the mixed zone where we find our kit waiting us. On the way through there is TV showing the race and the results, the team scores come up... 3rd Great Britain! Fantastic, suddenly the tiredness disappears and I feel great! I see the my other team members and pass on the good news! We don't have long to celebrate though before being advised to get our team kit on and ushered back outside to the rostrum. Its a great feeling and a moment I'm unlikely to forget standing up there, although I nearly fall off the back of podium as we try to squeeze the 6th team members on there! After a cool down and a bus back to hotel and a shower and change we have a team meeting. Each coach stands up and makes a short speak about their team and the team as a whole, one gets quite emotional he has been on the team for 20years as a coach, its quite moving. As it's my debut I get a mention and a gift to commemorate it. For the first time in a while I have a couple of drinks that night!