Last weekend was the final round of the 2016/2017 Chiltern Cross Country League and the end of my first full season of XC racing. Freezing cold temperatures, snow in the air, plenty mud and some killer hills. This final race in Campbell Park, Milton Keynes is the toughest in the series, in my opinion.
I’d like to say something interesting about the battle for points or who the top running teams are, but if I’m honest I simply don’t know. I know our team, Marshall Milton Keynes AC were the overall winners, but my overall finishing position at each race was way down the rankings and unlikely to have had any effect on the final result. Also, with each race being a slightly different and random distance, there are no PBs to chase. With the amount of hills and mud involved, you can’t even target what might ordinarily be considered a ‘good pace’. You might think then that there’s little incentive to push hard and keep hanging on till the end when there’s not much at stake, yet I pushed as hard if not harder in these races than any other running event I’ve entered. I’m pretty sure everyone around me was pushing just as hard too, despite being placed down the positions and mostly out of the points. What difference does it make whether I finished 196th or 198th? Why keep pushing almost to the point of vomiting when it makes little difference to the results? I guess, to see if I could. Mostly it hurt like hell but within a minute or so of finishing, I didn’t regret giving it maximum beans. Perhaps it’s the absence of a big clock over the finish line and the arbitrary 8.4km course length that does it – take away the opportunity for people to race against the clock and they start racing against each other instead.
If you’ve not run cross country since school, give it a go. It’s cheap, rewarding and gives you some real hard, competitive racing, the likes of which you’ll never see in a road ‘race’. If someone comes past me on a 10k or half marathon road race, I couldn’t care less as I’ll be too focused on sticking to an indicated pace on my Garmin. If you see someone coming up on your shoulder in cross country, suddenly you find yourself placing yourself on the trail to force them to take the long way round. If they get past, you start thinking about how you’re going to get the place back at the next bend or hill. Madness, but fun.
You know things are getting serious when you start building up a collection of different running shoes for different conditions. Last winter I entered a single round of the Chiltern Cross Country League and loved almost all of it, except for the fact that my regular trail shoes offered no grip whatsoever in the wet, sloppy mud; it was like running on ice in places. I’m hoping to compete in the full league this winter so these shoes should do a better job of keeping me upright.
This weekend just gone I had a crack at going beyond 26.2 miles and running our club’s annual “Round Milton Keynes Relay” as a solo runner – just shy of 32 miles of mixed terrain in total.
It turned out to be a very enjoyable day. I ran parts of it with some friends and parts of it alone, but had people dotted around the course to say hi and top me up with drink and Snickers bars. Aside from some pretty bad nettle rash there were no particular low points in the run, no hitting the wall, no painful legs, no having to take walking breaks, just a nice comfortable steady run for a few hours.
It’s made me realise (yet again) that I far prefer this sort of long steady endurance stuff over busting myself to pieces and suffering in agony for 20 minutes over a fast 5k. I have the Coniston trail marathon coming up again in a fortnight and am looking forward to taking the same relaxed approach there.
I’ve had a few comments and questions sent to me recently about my throttle body setup and it occurred to me that the most recent post and photos that I uploaded here are quite out of date.
There’s not a great deal to add, but I’ve now fitted an airbox (Pipercross 600 series) over the throttles, tidied things up a little, given the cam cover a lick of black crinkle paint and refined the fuel and ignition maps plenty more.
I was having some issues with rough running at very low TPS and RPM values, I think the very short intake trumpets I’m running due to lack of space was causing turbulent airflow at low revs. The airbox appears to have the effect of lengthening the intake tract and smoothing things out a little. The car definitely runs a little smoother with it fitted, although that great ITB sound is muffled a little unfortunately. Whether it robs the car of any power at the top end is up for debate. Perhaps a bhp or two, but I can live with that.
I’m also running some more aggressive, track-biased tyres now. As the car only gets used in the dry or for the occasional track day, I figured I may as well get something suited to those conditions. In the dry they’re great, plenty of grip and very controllable at the limit. I wasn’t so keen at Snetterton circuit earlier this month though in cold and soaking wet conditions. Part of the problem was that I forgot my tyre pressure gauge and was running far too much pressure. Either way, there was lots of this going on…