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.
This weekend I completed my first trail marathon. To cut a very long story short, it ranks as one of my favourite running experiences ever. Amazing Lake District scenery, interesting trails, great organisation, perfect running weather and a totally relaxed atmosphere amongst both the organisers and competitors.
Some observations I made throughout the day:
Standing around chatting in the race HQ tent with other runners, looking at your watch and saying “ooh, the race starts in less than two minutes, we’d better wander over to the start line” is the most relaxed I’ve ever been about a race. What a brilliant way to start the day, it couldn’t be further from the sort of tense atmosphere you experience on the start line of a big city race like the London Marathon.
I’ve never seen so many smiling and chatty runners around a race course before. Even after 20+ miles, everyone I came across was happily trotting along and appearing to enjoy themselves. Where were all the people bent double at the side of the road at 22 miles looking like death that you usually get at a marathon?
Treading knee deep into a peat bog is a good way to lose a shoe.
Running downhill over tricky terrain is tougher than it looks, but loads of fun.
Having tricky trails to concentrate on, great scenery to admire and no mile markers or target pace to worry about makes the time and distance just zip by.
The one overpowering vibe that came through all day though was what a positive bunch of people everyone involved were. There were no charity runners, no stag parties, hen dos, people dressed as rhinos or telephone boxes or people that had been roped into corporate teams. Just runners whose only reason to be there was their love of running.
All in all, a great day and finished off with an obligatory burger and beer before the four hour trek back to Milton Keynes. I shall definitely be back for more of this nonsense in the future.
I’ve recently got back from a week in Portugal, having run the Lisbon Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. It’s part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon series, based mainly in America with a small handful or races in Europe too. The rock ‘n’ roll bit comes from the fact that they stage a number of small live bands around the course to entertain the runners and spectators, as well as putting on a bit of live music at the finish too. If I’m honest, it’s not much different to other events I’ve run where you often get a bit of music here and there anyway. That said, it was a well organised event and the course – the first half along the Atlantic coast and the second half along the river through Lisbon – is spectacular.
My third marathon attempt this year (and ever), I was trying yet again to go sub four hours. At London and Milton Keynes, earlier in the year, it had all gone well until about 18-20 miles after which I completely fell to bits and struggled to keep running. This time, everything came together perfectly. With the exception of a couple of slower miles where I stopped for loo breaks and hit a little congestion as the half marathon runners joined our course and caused carnage at some of the water stops, I managed to keep things consistently and comfortably below nine minute miles, finishing with a slight negative split at 3:58.
Compared to London, Lisbon was a pretty small event and I think I prefer it that way. Last week I received my rejection letter for London 2015 and wasn’t disappointed at all. I’d like to run more marathons, perhaps next autumn, but I’m keen to stick to smaller events that are more about the running and less about the spectacle of it all. In the meantime, I’m eyeing up a new half marathon PB at my local Milton Keynes winter half in December and definitely fancy a bit more duathlon and triathlon next summer.