Although I had a great season in 2014, in fact, just good enough to win the individual Athletics Victoria winter premiership by 1 point, with three 2nd places and one 6th, an individual race victory had eluded me.

This year I made the tough decision of not taking part in mountain running, in either the Australian or World Championships. Although I give a lot of credit to mountain running for my steady improvement in performances from 1500m track up to 16km cross country races over the last 4 years, giving me both physical and mental toughness (there is now no longer such a thing as a tough cross country in my mind), this year I decided to focus more on just cross country and road running. With the national cross country championships to be held on yet another completely flat course and my main aim to really improve on my 5 and 10k on the track next summer, it was decided to swap some of my hill sessions out at the You Yangs for some faster work on the flat around the Barwon River, Landy field, Eastern Garden and Ocean Grove beach, with just a small amount of hill work to maintain the strength I’ve gain over the last few years.

So far the 2015 winter cross country and road racing season has been my best yet, winning the first three individual races of the season, the 8km XC, 15km road and 12km state XC champs and then a 2nd place finish in the 10km road race, just being out kicked to the line by the renowned fast finishing Mitch Brown. While in between the individual races, I’ve been proud to be part of the strong Geelong team in the relays, with our Division 1 men placing 3rd in the cross country relay, and 1st in both the road relay and Anglesea Ekiden trail relay.

Each year for the last 10 years, I’ve been slowly increasing my weekly mileage and leading into the National cross country championships, I had my best 4 months of training ever. Running up to 150km on a few of my biggest weeks when I wasn’t racing, then bringing it back down to around 100km on the weeks I raced, giving me an overall average of 120km/week for the 4 months with no real injury problems.

The week leading into National cross, I had an easy week of training and by race day, my body was free of any niggles and felt ready to race. Although the field was one of the biggest and strongest in recent years, with my 2nd place finish last year, and my recent form, I was confident I could again finish on the podium.

As predicted, race favourite, Liam Adams took it out hard from the gun. Josh Johnson sat on Liam and I sat just behind Josh, but after 500m I decided the pace was just a bit quick and slowed just a bit and sat in the main front pack. Liam and Josh stretched out to a 150m lead after first 2 laps (6km). By the 3rd lap, Liam’s relentless pace was just too much for Josh. Although Liam had slipped away, Josh still had a 100m on the chase pack with just over 3km to run. At this point I felt he would hold onto 2nd place unless we really picked up the pace on the final lap, so with just over a lap to run, I gently picked it up. To my surprise, initially no one went with me, and was starting to think that even if I couldn’t chase down Josh, I was looking good for at least a bronze. But it wasn’t long before I had a glance back to see the red singlet of Mitch Brown, the one man who can take down just about anyone over the last 100m if given the chance. Meanwhile I was slowly making ground on Josh, and was just trying to time my run home perfectly, not letting Mitch Brown get too close, trying to catch Josh before the finish line, while not blowing up and having nothing left for the final sprint to the line. With about 500m to go, I just got past Josh through the final zigzag section before hitting the final straight towards the finish line. With 200m to go I just sprinted my heart out, knowing both Josh, a 1500m specialist and Mitch were both just a few seconds behind and both could potentially out kick me over the last 100m if they got a sniff. Thankfully I had just enough left to hold them off and finish with a very satisfying 2nd place and my fastest 12km XC time ever of 36:05. In the end Liam Adams, the in form, multiple Australian XC champ, world XC representative and 7th place finisher in the 2014 Commonwealth Games marathon, took the victory. Josh Johnson just held off Mitch Brown for 3rd.

Although ACT was initially awarded the team gold medal, an update in the final results resulted in Victoria taking out the teams event, making it 4 team victories in a row I have now been a part of. Being team captain this year, I was very proud of the Big V boys!

Marshalling Logo for Achilles Tendinopathy Sacrifice leads to strong Cross Country Season for Wightman Sacrifice leads to strong Cross Country Season for Wightman marshalling room