I walk into Callendar park in Falkirk and there it is, the mass of tents from all the running clubs in Scotland. It's an amazing sight and there is a junior race currently taking place. The sun is out and I have a good feeling about the day.
I walk down the hill in the sunshine and make my way to the Edinburgh AC team tent, collect my race number and head out for a warm up around the course.
It's drier than last year, but that wouldn't be hard! It's also a slightly different route than last year. There are more hills! Hills I didn't even know existed in the park.
Last year I had to stop on the last lap due to a stitch, I finished but it wasn't my best race. This year the plan is to finish without a stitch. Simple.
Go out easy for the first lap and slowly increase the pace and pick off other runners on the second and third laps.
I make my way to the start line with about 5 minutes to go to make sure I can get relatively close to the start line. I don't want to be to far up the pack but I also don't want to be stuck at the back. About 4 or 5 rows in is a good place to be.
Over 600 men lined up, waiting for the gun to go to mark the start of the 3 lap, 12k race.
We were off.
The first couple of corners are slow, even with me getting near the front we come to an almost stop as everyone tries to get around the corner, dodge unlucky guys who have tripped and fell. The shout goes out 'Man down' to warn others to look out for someone on the ground.
We climb up the first hill, across the table top and down the other side. There is plenty of room here to allow me to take the outside line and pass a number of runners.
We then head along beside the loch which is hard packed and I can stretch out, keeping my breathing relaxed but still passing people.
This is where the race started for me. A couple of other Edinburgh AC vests popped in to my vision and I decided to get close to them rather than let them get any sort of early lead.
For the next 2 laps we swap positions, I slow my pace on the hills while they cruise up them without any issues. I would then pick up the pace on the downhill and flat sections catching them and passing them.
Halfway around the second lap I spotted another Edinburgh AC vest and it was someone I thought I should be matching pace with. I had noticed a hint of a stitch at the end of the first lap so tried to relax my breathing. I didn't want to blow up now not now that I had someone else to target. I held my pace and I started to reel him in.
(Thanks Gordon Donnachie for the photo)
By the final lap I had managed to pull away from the 2 other Edinburgh AC vests (pictured above) who I had been battling with and I was now behind my new target.
I had 2 options, the first, sit behind him for the rest of the lap and give it a sprint down the home straight and try and get in front of him or, pass him and hope that he doesn't pick up the pace with me. I obviously wasn't thinking clearly enough by this point though because we were approaching the steepest hill of the course and I passed him.
What happened next was inevitable. I hit the hill, slowing the pace to make sure I didn't get a stitch and he passed me, the difference though was he now knew I was there and he kept the gap between us. It felt every time I picked up the pace so did he. I couldn't catch him.
It was a brilliant race though, I really enjoyed having the mini races between my fellow club mates and it kept me focussed for the entire run. The new course was also a really refreshing change. Challenging enough to keep you interested but not impossible to run which can cause you just to switch off and survive.
As I have said in previous blogs, due to the nature of cross country, you can't compare one year with the next by time.
Previous results that I can find:
19th February 2011:
Position: 195 /451 - 43%
18th February 2012:
Position: 254 / 505 - 50%
23rd February 2013:
Position: 173 / 503 - 34%
22nd February 2015:
Position: 277 / 571 - 48%
27th February 2016:
Position: 151 / 631 - 23%
So it's clear that this year was my best finish yet, in the top 23% of finishers. I'm very happy with that! Maybe next year I can scrape into the top 150 finishers.