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Rising to the Cross-Country Challenge

The cross-country season is well underway.  Hurrah!  

For us, it kicked off at the start of October with the first Thames Valley league fixture at Hillingdon, West London.  Although a semi-urban course just by the start of the busy M40, it had many classic cross-country elements – short sharp hills, mud, woods and even a river crossing.  

It got us thinking about the unique challenges cross-country poses – and how best to tackle them.


A good cross-country course should have river crossings or wide, deep puddles blocking the trail.  Tips: Look at the route the runners in front of you are taking and follow those who are crossing well.  Lift your feet.  


Races can get very congested at styles, gaps in hedges or narrow forest tracks, particularly if these occur soon after the start.  Tips:  If you know the route increase your pace well before the obstacle.  Inevitably you will get boxed occasionally – try to relax, don’t stress and control your breathing for when the pace hots up again.  

Congestion near the start 


Consider mud as one of the great joys of cross country running and embraced it!  Tips. Invest in proper shoes, as recommended by Steve Skinner in Thursday’s blog. (Link)   Deep rubber lugged soles are the most versatile choice and long spikes are good for courses with no road sections.

Typical cross country conditions!


Hills are part of the magic of cross-country too and should also be embraced and used to tactical advantage.  Tips.  Start hills sensibly then try to run hard over the top and beyond.  Practice downhill running in training – if you can descend confidently you’ll pick up plenty of paces.


Lack of mile markers and the changing terrain can make pace judgment tricky, particularly if you are relatively new to xc.  Tip.  Estimate roughly how long the race will take you then apply the rule of thirds.  Aim for a somewhat conservative first third, hitting race pace in the second.  If you’re feeling strong in the final third you can gradually up the pace and take some precious places.

Slowing up at the end of a long wintry course


The final challenge is often the queue for the tea and cakes.  We hope by then you’ll be basking in flood of endorphins and the satisfaction of completing a tough race!