Dark nights, chilly mornings and runny noses. Yes, autumn has well and truly arrived. If you are a runner, it means the cross country season is just around the corner.
Well, not for every runner. Not by a long way. Most of us get our kicks on the road or the increasingly popular trail racing scene. Yet cross country represents the genesis of distance running. It is where the simple act of a human foot race over multiple miles began.
As the sport has evolved, the glamour of the big city marathons, track running for the seriously talented and even the fire treading, electrocution-threatening world of adventure racing have left their elderly uncle cross country in the shade.
That’s a shame because cross country running still has a lot to offer the modern day runner of all levels. Its sheer simplicity for a starter. Anyone who has not taken part in a cross country race, but who has been weaned on road racing, will find it a very back-to-basics experience.
No medals, no goody bags, no finishing gantry, sometimes even no timing. Yet it is the sheer simplicity that actually makes it a refreshing experience. It’s just you and your fellow humans against nature. Competing against one another, yes, but also against the elements. In that sense, everyone is very much in it together.
There is also no pressure for running target times either. Each race is over a different distance and given the variety in terrain and conditions, there’s no such thing as a PB. All you have to be concerned with is getting from start to finish in one piece as quickly as possible.
Having said that, my forages into cross country have always produced PBs a few months later on the roads. I am convinced that there is no other form of the sport that will quite enable you to improve fitness as cross country. Not only is the going tough, but the events are competitive.
Most events are organised by clubs for club runners. The only way in is via a club. But entry to many of the local league races is free and comes as part of a club membership. Which also creates its own camaraderie spirit as clubs run in packs at races, competing for team prizes. So, if you are looking for an off-road adventure, want to develop your fitness and want to have a muddy good time, look no further than cross country.