Many runners around the country are now turning their thoughts to cross-country. The season of mud and mayhem is almost upon us. In our case this means the Thames Valley Cross Country League, a mud and hill fest that runs from November through to March.
So what’s so great about cross-country and how do you get started?
The benefits of cross-county are well established. It is excellent for developing strength. The terrain forces you to run with your whole body. Ankle, leg, stomach and overall core strength will improve massively. Mental strength and determination are also developed in a way pure road running cannot match.
Tactics are also very important. As a vet I use every trick in my book to compensate for declining speed. Cross-country is great for that. Start steady and then work through the field. Rest up and don’t stress when boxed in on narrow sections. Run hard off the top of hills. Constantly seek the best terrain. Good tactics will win you a few precious places, and places are what count in cross-country. Forget your time. Even if you’ve run the same course before weather and conditions underfoot make time less relevant.
If you are new to cross-country there are increasing numbers of “open races” for you to dip your toe in the water - or, more likely, the mud! Many of the online race calendars now include cross-country events - Runner’s World for example have plenty. If you live in the South East we recommend AAT Events excellent winter series -three punishing but scenic 10k events in the Surrey Hills near Guildford in February and March.
If you catch the bug, the most satisfying way to compete is to join a running club and compete in a local league. Standards vary widely, but whatever league you choose, races are real team events with a tremendous sense of camaraderie. Most host clubs lay on post race sandwiches, cakes and lashings of tea. It’s the perfect way to refuel, unwind and review race tactics with your club mates.So it’s time to bid road racing a fond farewell for a few months and embrace mud – you won’t regret it!