Mud, Sweat and Tears – An Introduction to Cross Country

8 October 2021 - By Scott Darney

The NESS Cross Country League kicks off once again in a months time with locations ow confirmed (below) abd Springfield Striders hosting the first race at Writtle College on 7th November.

7th November 2021 – Springfield
28th November 2021 – Halstead
12th December 2021 – Bentley
30th January 2022 – Harwich
20th February 2022 – Hadleigh

After a year off it will have been some time since we last ran cross country and we have welcomed many new members to the club who may not have had the pleasure of running Cross Country so we have decided to provide a little guide advising what to expect and how to prepare for Cross Country.

What Is Cross Country Running?

Cross Country is a no-thrills, off-road winter running event run generally over mud and grass. Typically, the league courses are 5 miles and will be run through fields, woodlands, ditches, up and down hills and in all the extremeties of weather that an English winter can throw at you.
It is not just about running. WRC enter the NESS League as a team and have established our position in Pool A for a few years now after many years hopping between Pool A and Pool B. As a team event, this means everyone’s position can impact our standing in the league and because of this we try and encourage as many people to race as possible.
The events are also a great sociaising opportunity with WRC members baking cakes for everyone to enjoy at the end.

How to Prepare and Train for Cross Country

Footwear.
If you turn up to Cross Country in your road shoes, there is a good chance you are going to have a challenging day! The majority of people run in either Trail Shoes with thick studs or Cross Country Spikes. Make sure you have tested your shoes prior to race day as some shoes can take a few runs to wear them in. WRC will be hosting a few familiarisaton/training session (click here for more details) which are ideal for trying out your new Cross Country shoes..
Tip – if you plan on buying some new footwear, WRC members get 10-15% off at Sportsshoes.com if you ask the chairman for the code!

Clothing.
WRC Race Vest/Tshirt is mandatory for Cross Country. Please ensure you have purchased prior to the first race if you intend on running for WRC.
Most members, regardless of the weather, will still wear shorts and a vest as you can warm up quite quickly on the course but you can wear running tights if you like as well as long sleeves so long as it is under your Race Vest. Gloves and hats also acceptable.
Tip – make sure you bring plenty of warm clothes for before and after, along with a carrier bag for your wet and muddy clothes!

Practice Off Road Running.
The main difference between regular road racing and Cross Country is the terrain. Cross Country will try and use as little road as possible but there may be short tarmac/gravel sections. This means the terrain will mostly be un-even and could be slippery. Practice running off road to familiarize yourself with how different it is to running on the road. If you are unsure where to run, just ask the members of WRC in the facebook group and we are sure someone will be willing to guide you.
Tip – you will need to look where you are going because the course will contain many obstacles that you will need to negotiate such as roots and rocks – try not to look imediately on the floor in front of you with your head straight down and instead scan the route for your next 3-4 steps – this will become easier the more you run off road.

Run Hill repeats regularly (Up and Down).
A common feature of a cross country course is Hills. Running Hill Repeats will prepare you for the demands of running up and down hills on race day but even if there aren’t any hills, Hill Repeats will make you a stronger all-round runner so hill sessions are never wasted even if you never encounter a hill in a race. WRC plan to include Hills sessions in their training schedule leading up to Cross Country so look out for these.
Tip – Hill training doesn’t necessarily need to be off-road – if you don’t have a large off-road hill then running hill repeats on a road/footpath will still improve your hill running strength adequately.

Learn to Run By Feel
Running offroad will almost always be slower than running on road. It is handy to know this before you set off as it is unlikely you will be able to maintain your tempo road pace.
No Cross Country Course is the same and the conditions will be different every time you race. This means that your pace can vary dramatically from one race to the next. As such it is useful to know what your race “effort” feels like to help you with pacing for the race.
Personally, I dont pay any attention to the pace on my watch and often set my watch face to only show distance.
Tip – Try the odd tempo run without looking at your watch and remember how this feels.

How to Race Cross Country:

As explained previously, the terrain and the weather conditions can severely affect your pace for Cross Country. As stated before, the first tip is to pay no attention to your watch and what time you are running because it is likely you will not be anywhere near your road pace.
Most new runners will often start faster than they should and suffer afte 1-2 miles as a result. As you familiarise yourself with Cross Country, you should begin to learn what your racing effort feels like. If in doubt you should always start conservatively with a view to increasing effort as the race goes on.
Tip – Most courses consist of 2 or even 3 laps so it might be useful to use the first lap to learn the course and to make sure that you run sensible, before pushing on in the 2nd (and/or 3rd) lap.

What do to on Race Day:

• Aim to arrive at the venue at least 45-60 minutes prior to start time (most NESS League fixtures start at 10:45am).
• Seek out your WRC Team mates and sign in with the WRC Cross Country Coordinator on the day (look for the clipboard).
• Perform suitable warm up 15-20 mins prior to start time.
• 5-10 minutes before race start, gather on the start line.
• RACE
• SMILE / CRY / LAUGH / SWEAR (to yourself, not others!) / SULK (delete as appropriate)
• FINISH!
• Cheer home your WRC teammates
• Drink Tea and Eat Cake!

I hope the above provides enough information about Cross Country however if you have any further questions please feel free to ask in the comments below or to our members on the facebook post.

Enjoy!

Scott

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