The first full weekend of 2017 is a significant one for club athletes as it heralds the arrival of the County Cross Country Championships. Most counties are holding races with highly sought after County vests for the leading performers who will represent their counties in the UK Inter-Counties Champs at Loughborough on 11 March.
Running cannot get much more grass roots than cross country, where the only pre-requisites are a well flagged and marshalled course, a smooth running finish funnel and a bunch of committed and experienced officials, who are apparently impervious to inclement weather.
Some venues may also boast changing facilities, showers, refreshments and a warm venue for prize-giving but the experience of this reporter, with over 40 years of supporting these events, is that this is the exception rather than the rule and it is wise to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best!
Tomorrow (Saturday 7 January) will see shivering hopefuls in action in the combined Bedfordshire/Buckinghamshire event at Stowe School, Buckingham plus Essex (Ashton Playing Fields, Woodford); Gloucestershire (Old Down Park); Kent (Brands Hatch); Surrey (Lloyd Park, Croydon) and Sussex (Little Common, Bexhill).
On Sunday (8 January) competition continues with Oxfordshire titles being contested at Stowe School, Buckingham and the Suffolk championships at Heveningham Hall, Bungay.
Entries are closed for championship races but spectators are always welcome and details can be found by searching any county athletics website. Somewhere this weekend there will be an athlete for whom a county title will be the launch pad for future success at national and international level.
Alternatively, armchair athletes can stay in the warmth and watch the elites in action in the Great Edinburgh Cross Country International from Holyrood Park, televised live on BBC 1 from 1.15pm on Saturday. The new British indoor 5000m record holder Laura Muir will captain the British team which will feature athletes of the calibre of Sir Mo Farah, Callum Hawkins, Andy Vernon, Gemma Steel and Steph Twell – all of whom have competed in their county cross country championships in the past.