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.