25 years of Cross Country Running

Ian Cousins has been a member of Stopsley Sriders for 29 years. Whilst he has competed in many road races Ian has had a particular love for Cross country and has competed for over 25 years for the club.

During that time he has set a remarkable record with which few can compete –

In 2000 at the Club’s 18th Anniversary he was presented with a Special Award to mark his remarkable achievements at cross country over the previous decade which included:-

National Cross Country – ran 11 in a row from 1990-2000

Eastern or Southern XC – missed on one race

Beds County Champs -  Missed only one race

Todays Runner XC series – missed only one race

Ampthill Trophy and Orion 15 – ran almost every one.

He had run an average of 10 cross country races a year, sometimes being the only Strider competing. He had therefore run at least 100 XC races that decade.
His sequence of 11 National XC races in a row was only broken in 2001 because the club did not have a team entered. There was no team entry the following year either.
In 2003 Ian ran the National again at Parliament Hill. He went on to run another four nationals – including another two at Parliament Hill. His last one was in 2011 at Alton Towers.
He rarely missed any of the  South of England and Beds County Championships.
His last County Championship was at Shuttleworth on 2009.
The Todays Runner XC Series became the Three Counties XC League.
Since 1995 he has run over 70 races in the League, which is more than any other Strider, and amongst the top 3 runners in the League.
Unfortunately, due to health reasons, Ian’s cross country running may be coming to an end. He has therefore decided to write about some of his XC memories.

Memories of My Cross Country Running by Ian Cousins:

My Cross Country story doesn't start at the beginning. It started in 1990 when Colin Bowler, then the Striders Club Captain asked me to run in the National X-C at Leeds in 1990.It was only after running in this event that I realised that I had run all the club X-C's in 1989/1990 season, that is All the league races,the County Cross Country, the Eastern X-C champs, and finally the National X-C.

 Also, around that time, I felt that my road running was at its peak- my PB's  by the early nineties were 3 hours 26:30, for the marathon, 1hour 28:35, for the half, 65:34 for ten and 39:06 on a 10k time trial.

I decided, therefore after the National x-c in 1990, to try and run all club cross countries for as many seasons as possible. What followed was a Golden Decade where I missed remarkably few club cross countries. I ran 11 Nationals in a row from 1990 to 2000 inclusive, only missed one Eastern/South of England Championship, and one Bedfordshire County Championship. Also only one league race.

Also pre-season, I would run Ampthill Park Trophy or Tring Ridgeway Run or sometimes both, and then at the seasons end the Orion 15, a tough X-C event in Epping Forest. Therefore, in the nineties, I ran approx 10 Cross-Countries a year for 10 years, so about 100 races in that decade alone.

However, now back to the beginning, and the fact that I first ran cross-country for Striders when the Today's Runner X-C league commenced in the late 80's. I was virtually ever present in those 5/6 early seasons when Stopsley Striders won the local Beds/Herts Today's Runner league every season.

The first fixture that I can remember, and it may have been Autumn 1987 was hosted by Bedford Harriers, and the Race HQ was Mark Rutherford School, and the event itself held at the adjacent Mowsbury Park.

Because Striders won the local league, we qualified for the Today's Runner National final. I ran in finals at the National Watersports Centre in Nottingham, twice on our 'home' course here at Stopsley Common, and also Peterborough and Coalville, Leics. When we ran twice at Stopsley, the club came fifth at the end of the 1988/99 season, and a magnificent 3rd place in the National Final at the end of the 1990/91 season.

1. National X-C at Roundhay Park,Leeds 1990

This was my first National X-C. Iain Sanderson, who wasn't running that day drove us up in a minibus.
We were able to park near to the course which looked very flat from our warm vantage point in the team minibus. Then the keener ones ventured out to do a long warm-up (quite right too). When they arrived back, they reported that the far side of the course was very hilly (cue collective groan from the rest of us).
During the run itself, I had just got to the top of the notorious Hill 60,at which point I had one lap to go. Thereupon, a runner went past frolicking like a spring lamb, compared to the back markers like myself. This hoop-vested man then proceeded to run towards the winning post. It was only then that I realised that I had been lapped by the winner, and after the race I found out that it was Richard Nerurkar of Bingley Harriers.  

After the race, as requested, we went straight back to the minibus, got changed and commenced our journey back to Luton, with the mud from the course still on our legs. Current members that ran that day in 1990, apart from myself were Bill Barrett, Adrian Moore, and Andy Reid.
On the journey back, I vowed not to get lapped on future championship races, something that I achieved for many years. 

2. National X-C at Stopsley Common,Luton 1991

Those of us that had made the long trip to Leeds were rewarded a year later since the National was on our home course at 'Stopsley Common '. Bill Barrett, Andy Reid, Terry Cartwright and Garnat Christopher as well as myself all featured for the 2nd year running along with Kieran Manning and Alan Taylor. I thought that Alan Taylor was 1st reserve, since you had to be selected in those days, because only 9 runners per club were allowed. However,I spoke to Alan recently and he assures me that he ran that day. Team photos of the 1990 and 1991 Striders National Teams are on the Website under 'photos of  old Striders'.

3. Beefeater Ampthill Trophy X-C Races 4th November 1990

Whilst preparing for this article, I came across a results sheet for this race, where I was the only Strider in the Vet Men's Race. I finished halfway down the field in 92nd position in a time of 43.36 which for 10k at a very hilly Ampthill Park, I am sure a time that I would have been pleased with. On looking through the list of  runners I noticed a certain D.Christopher who finished 48th representing Vauxhall in a time of 40.07. I wonder what happened to him?

4. Newark National X-C's in the 90's

I ran the National X-C at the County Ground in Newark 3 times in the 90's (1992, 1996 and 1999) but they all merge into one in my now aged memory. This is probably because I recall the course as being very flat and boring. I remember Eamon Martin won in 92. I also remember getting changed next to Lance Richardson on one of them. Definitely 5 Star changing rooms-not! We were changing in the cattle pens reserved for the animals on County Show Day. Only the best accommodation reserved for those representing Stopsley Striders at the prestigious National Cross Country Championships.

They did add on a hill in ‘99 to make it a bit more variable, and on one of the three I remember Dave Debnam, Alan Taylor and myself  finishing very close together.

5. Wing Cross Countries

I have run at Wing many times of course over the years, the most recent being this season's race. However two in particular stand out in my memory. In the early 90's, I missed the start of the Beds County X-C Championships, through no fault of my own.
Those of you that have run at Wing will know that the course is about 5 minutes walk from the school which is used as the Race HQ and changing area. I was at the school changing when, unbeknown to me, it was announced at the course that due to bad light conditions, the start of  the men's race would be brought forward by 20 minutes. I arrived at the corner of the field, just in time to see the race being started.
I ran across the field in pursuit, throwing off my warm-up top in the process, already a few hundred yards behind the back marker. I was told, afterwards, of another competitor, who had driven direct to the course, and who alighted from his car 'ready to run ' ripped off his number in disgust, when he saw the runners disappearing into the distance. Needless to say that the air was 'blue' after the race, when the official who had made the decision to bring the start time forward without adequate notice, was finally located and given a piece of my mind ! 

The other one was run on the old course, on the other side of the school, not where we run now. It was so foggy that although there were a few hundred runners out there, you could only see the 3 or 4 that were immediately in front of you. You could hear the occasional shout of encouragement from the few supporters, but apart from that the fog seemed to dampen the sound. It was all very eerie and surreal.

6. National X-C 1997 at Havant in Hampshire.

There were only 5 Striders for this National, not enough for a scoring team. Richard Powell was one of them. He was a Strider in those days before  he went on to run for Vauxhall/Luton United. As we gathered together in preparation for the start, I was lining up next to Chris Lamont.
It was at this moment that we realised, that our feet had disappeared under several inches of water.Yes that's right the organisers had arranged for the start area to be located on a water meadow ! 

7. National X-C at Roundhay Park, Leeds 1998.

I was to run at Roundhay Park for the second time. This was a return to the course where I ran my first National in 1990. I have many memories of the 1990 run, but very few of the 1998 run. What I do remember is that there were only two Striders able to travel, Adrian Moore and myself. We decided as there were only two of us to travel on the Luton AC coach.

8. My disappointment at not making the scoring team in a Championship Event.

I never managed to make the scoring six, but I finished 7th at least twice.

One was the National X-C at Wigmore, Luton in 1995, when I was in 6th place but was overtaken by Kim Pollard in the last few hundred yards. The other was at a very wet Parliament Hill, but I don't know whether it was a National or a South of  England Championship. However, I felt that I was holding on to the 6th scoring position, since I had a rough idea of  who was in front of me, and who might be behind. At that moment, on one of the wettest and muddiest parts of the course, one of my running spikes decided to stay embedded in the mud, rather than in place on my foot. Whilst I was trying to get my shoe back on, I  saw Andy Reid run past to claim the last scoring place. 

9. Priory Park, Bedford.

A very flat course, with a water feature, The Marina, another venue that I have run many times. My first memory relates to Phil Morton, who ran at Striders in the earlier years. For this particular fixture, The Marina had become swollen and had overflowed onto parts of the course. One of the footpaths on the edge of The Marina was at least one foot underwater. In the changing rooms after the event, I commented that the water was lapping around my knees (Me being a six-footer of course). Whereupon, Phil Morton a much shorter and stockier runner piped up ' I am not telling anyone where the water came up to on me'.

The second memory of Priory Park is already firmly embedded in the folklore of Stopsley Striders and involved Roy Pilkington. Roy was an excellent runner for Striders. On this day, it was a very cold Sunday morning with ice on parts of the course. As I approached the water crossing, I realised that the runners were expected to enter the water via a concrete ramp. I made the type of instant decision, that you need to on a cross country course. Approaching the river I decided to enter by descending the muddy bank, believing that I would get more grip with my spikes on the muddy bank rather than the concrete approach. Anyway, I safely got to the other side. When on the other bank, and trying to get back into my stride, as you do when your legs are numb from the knee down after a winter river crossing, I noticed Roy moving extremely slowly and looking 'out of sorts ' as I went past him. Needless to say, with a runner of his caliber, he recovered and overtook me before the end of the race.
I only found out in the changing rooms afterwards what the whole story was:
Roy had approached the river via the concrete ramp, which also had an ice covering on it. He lost his footing and was unable to recover his balance and fell headlong into the ice cold water. What is more is that Roy is apparently a non-swimmer and his fall had fully immersed him. Therefore when I assumed that he was 'out of sorts ' I was extremely wide of the mark because he must have been in a state of shock!   

10. Parliament Hill/ Wide Tree Trunk

 One year whilst running at Parliament Hill, the temperature started to drop very quickly late in the afternoon. Also there are tarmac paths on the Heath that cross the course. I think that ice was starting to form on these paths. I was on my last lap, the temperature falling and the light fading when the spikes of the runner in front hit the surface of the icy tarmac path crossing the course, and down he went like the proverbial sack of potatoes. In trying to avoid his prostrate body, I realised that I was heading for the wide tree trunk of one of the big trees that populate the heath. Just when I thought that I was going to be 'creamed' against the bark as in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, I managed to slow my pace just enough to collide gently with the big tree, then get myself back on the course and so finish the race.

11. Home County Southern X-C Championships

 On 28th January 2006 the South of England Championships were held at Bicton Park in Devon, my home county. I contacted my cousin, Val who still lives in Exeter and who came with some of her family to support. She also took a team photo before the race.
It is a significant photo for me because it includes some of my best friends, fellow walkers, bikers, traveling companions and all round good chaps with many tales of the 'Ripping Yarns' variety i.e. Graham Busch, Paul Keech, Dave Debnam, and Martin Mitchell. Also club stalwarts and regular Cross Country participants Stuart Harries (Club Chairman) Derek Christopher (who I think drove the mini-bus that day} Chris Lamont and Lance Richardson. How did Barry Telling get in there?

12. Beds County X-C  Championships at Shuttleworth on 10th of January 2009.

 My last County championships, and possibly the coldest that I ever ran in. I heard that it was minus 4 degrees that day. I think that I ran in shorts and vest, and I did warm up once I got into the race, apart from my hands and arms which were still numb at the finish.

13. Today's Runner Final at Coalville, Leicestershire. Late 80's/early 90's

This venue was very aptly named, because my only memory of the course was that there were ditches to negotiate and they were filled with black peat, and black ditch water, blacker than the blackest black pudding, so that it wouldn't have surprised me if lumps of coal had been found in there.
I remember that Tommy Murphy lost a shoe in one of the ditches. I don't know if he ever found it again. Also Carol Morrison, decided to run in her 'Ron Hills ' rather than the shorts/bare legs combination. I saw her after the race and her Ron Hill long bottoms were absolutely covered in a thick layer of black peat. I think it is much easier to wash off the remnants of cross country courses from bare legs than it is to take home in your kit bag long bottoms caked in mud and peat.

14. National X-C at Alton Towers 2011

   I think that this was the muddiest x-c that I had ever run in, and the fact that I was now over 60 contributed to make it probably the hardest. The omens were not good from the start. We traveled by car and on the approach road to Alton Towers, we could hear the sound of ambulances that were taking runners injured in the previous events to hospital.
Even the journey from our parked car to the club tent was not easy. We had to negotiate deep and slippery mud and this was off the course in the club tent/spectator area. I was amazed that my wife Noreen didn't fall over, and she was adamant that she deserved a medal for managing to reach the club tent.
The ' Powers That Be ' made the decision to reduce the length of the course. I don't know why exactly. The deep mud on the course must have contributed to the numerous injuries in previous races. There might also have been a time delay caused by getting ambulances in and out of the venue. Once the race was underway, I was pleased that the course had been shortened. There was mud throughout ranging from ankle deep to calf deep. The only place on the course without any mud was up the steep hill. I was at the back end of the field of runners, but I had some distinguished company in the form of the legendary Ron Hill


After my first tentative couple of seasons of Cross Country, my target every season from 1990 to 2011 was to run all league races, the Beds County, the Easterns or Southerns and, finally, the National, and I succeeded in doing this more times than not.
From 1987 until 2011, it was very rare for anyone to attend a Club cross country and not find me there as well. Although I have never kept detailed records, I reckon that, including club cross countries, the Ampthill Trophy, Tring Ridgeway and Orion 15, I have participated in the best part of 200 cross countries
I have also run many road races of course, but do not remember any great detail about them – it is all mainly about times- so I don't think you can beat the thrills and spills of all the various Cross Country courses. I urge those club members that have yet to try it, to give it a go.

Ian Cousins