As I’ve mentioned before, my running club is very active in the London-area road racing and track and field scene. Add cross country to that, too! Throughout the fall (autumn, here) and winter, there are competitive cross country leagues for clubs around London. There’s an enthusiastic core of serious XC runners in my club; they attempt to recruit the rest of us, particularly for the monthly Met League races. Apparently the scoring is such that merely having tons of runners in the race can boost the overall team result, regardless of how fast the runners finish — each person scores points.
Since some of the people I regularly train with also participate in cross country season, I decided to give it a go. Why not? There’s no entry fee, as long as you’re a member of a club. Each Met League race is held at a different park in the London area; it’s a good opportunity to run on new territory (and terrain!).
So off I went to Claybury Park with J, G, and B on Saturday around noon, for our 1:55pm 6km (3.73mi) cross country race. After a short warmup, we gathered with our fellow Heathside women at the start line, the horn went off, and away we ran!
The course for us was one small loop and the two (identical) big loops. Since I’d never run cross country before this, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of terrain but assumed there’d be grass and mud and hills. There were, and said mud made me wish I had XC spikes, as I decided to run this first race in my regular running shoes (known as “trainers” here in the UK). Once we finished one big loop, I knew what to expect and where the terrain would be dry/flat enough for me to push my pace in my non-spiked shoes: a few sections of paved paths, a couple of flat grassy stretches, and the big up and down through the woods. (At least our Thursday hill training club sessions seem to be paying off — I definitely passed people going uphill.)
With 1 or 2km to go, I felt my focus fading and had to really grit my teeth to stay on track — cross country running takes much more mental focus than road running, since the terrain is uneven/hilly/slippery. You have to pay attention if you don’t want to fall! Keeping that in mind, 6km felt like a lot more than 6km, and I was happy to finish under 30 minutes (29:22, which is 7:52/mile pace), as the 85th woman (of 152) and the 10th Heathside woman (of 19 in our race).
Overall, I enjoyed my first experience of cross country. My favorite part — aside from running on pretty wooded trails — was the great team atmosphere. Since the men raced after us, they were ever-present on key parts of the course to cheer us on and ring their cowbells! That certainly helped keep me going. Hopefully I’ll get my hands on some spikes soon, so I’ll run faster at the next fixture.
Next up on my racing calendar: Met League #2 in November, and a 5-mile road race in December.