For those new to cross country, the premise is that teams and individuals (assigned by age and m/f) compete in races, normally 5-10k in distance, over natural terrain. We are talking field, trail and woodland courses with circuits or multiple laps. As you can imagine conditions therefore are only for the hardiest of competitor with races invariably involving grass, gravel, spikes, mud, small shorts, water, vests, snow, teeth-gritting, wind, rain, hail, freezing cold, cursing and proclamations of ‘WHY?!’
Here’s why. Unlike other distance running events, participants place both individually and as part of a squad. This brings a real camaraderie and whoever comes in 20th may still walk (probably limp) away an eventual winner as part of the team competition, with their result potentially as important to the overall standings as the guy who finished 1st. Exciting stuff.
Additionally cross country is considered a supreme training method. Be that to shift winter pounds, start a track season in peak condition, aid strength and conditioning or develop the endurance needed for marathon running. The physiological benefits can be tenfold and proponents of this madness have been Bekele, Farah, Tergat, Radcliffe, O’Sullivan but to name a few.
So, last weekend saw the best in Europe come together to showcase their cross country prowess. These races were super exciting with match-ups starting earlier in the day on hard packed snowy ground, underfoot conditions deteriorating as the next age groups donned their spikes and the senior men finishing in the wet and mud! Looking at the results, despite hills and dodgy conditions, the course was no deterrent with competition fierce. And props to Team GB & NI topping the overall table, finishing with four team and five individual medals from six races!
I had a chat with top GB placed senior male, Ross Millington, after the race to get his thoughts:
‘I thoroughly enjoyed the race in Samokov, the conditions and course were challenging and that combined to make it a proper cross country race. For me personally the race played out pretty much perfectly. Although the top three guys got away very early on, I found myself in a competitive group and just kept in there and went with anyone that pushed the pace. On the last lap I was able to push and drop a couple of runners but unfortunately just got out sprinted by the French guy. To finish 5th at my first European Cross Country is very encouraging, and hopefully next year I can put myself in a position to try and win a medal.’
‘The race was definitely an important one for me, it had been the main goal since I ended my track season in early August. I would say I am more of a track runner, that is where most of the focus is placed, but I think it’s important to be competitive on both the roads and cross country too. My coach, Steve Vernon, is one of the best cross country runners Britain has produced so we definitely put an emphasis on it; we believe it is great conditioning and provides good opportunity to race during the winter months when you are laying down a base for the summer season ahead. For us, it’s important to set and achieve short term goals as part of a bigger plan, so not racing from the end of track season until indoors wouldn’t really be an option. Plus I really enjoy racing on the cross.’
The long and the short shorts of it is that the coverage of Team GB & NI’s performance last weekend was pretty inspirational. I for one am now planning to get out, fix up some hill training and see if I can find a race to compete in and ‘mud up’. See you out there!
Ross is a British runner representing New Balance. We wish him the very best of luck in 2015.
Track his progress here: @ross_millington