I wrote a blog post on this last year and thought I would use this as a reminder to highlight how useful the Cross Country (XC) racing season can be to work on running speed over the winter.
Over the last two winters I took part in the Borders XC Series held by a number of Running Clubs in the Scottish Borders. The series had a great variety of races ranging from the more traditional muddy field to energy sapping runs along the beach at Berwick or Dunbar. This series is open to all and up until this year entry was on the day. It is now on Entry Central and I missed the boat to get my place as it filled up really quickly. This prompted me to join one of my local running clubs – Harmeny Pentland Runners who are affiliated with Pentland Triathletes who I already coach. It had been in the back of my mind for some time to join a running club and this presented itself as good an opportunity as any.
Why did it prompt me? A lot of the XC races are closed races – so for running clubs only – and I didn’t want to miss out on a winter of XC racing with only a handful of open races available.
This weekend I am off to my first closed race of the season at Alloa – an 8k multi lap race. Last weekend I took part in one of only a few open races in the Edinburgh area, the Braids Hill XC, organised by the Edinburgh University Running Club – Haries.
Conditions on the day were perfect, the only drawback being a fierce wind over the top but otherwise mostly dry underfoot and reasonable temperatures for the time of year. Knowing that I hadn’t done any speed work this year I didn’t line up too close to the front, but feedback from the ladies’ race was that it would be easy to get boxed in if we started too far back, so I hoped that I was well enough positioned. The women’s race is one lap of just under 5k, the men’s race is 2 laps of the same.
I did get boxed in a bit in the first lap but then the field spread out enough in the 2nd lap for me to be able to race freely. This is definitely an advantage with the men’s race being two laps as the women finished their race when the field would start to thin out.
The Braids course is a continuous uphill for the first 2k, followed by a couple of undulations at the top, a fast descent and then a fairly flat run along a bridle path back to start/finish. Here is my Strava trace of the route. The top and the bridle path section are the worst bits for overtaking. On the first lap I kept a fairly steady pace on the way up and then mostly sat in the pack back to start finish passing a couple of runners and being passed by some. There were quite a few speedy folk who went haring off at the start. Thank God for a second lap as that gave me a chance to make use of some of my endurance and make my way up the field. To my surprise I was also closing the gap on one of the Pentland Triathlete club runners – Niall. Although I could see the gap was closing – especially on the descent – I didn’t think it would be enough for me to actually pass Niall. But with less than 500m to go the gap suddenly was down to only 10 metres. I made my move with around 300m to go. I played my cards too early though as that gave Niall the opportunity to come back which he did to the cheers of the club’s ladies contingent. I thought I had blown it as I don’t really have much of a sprint finish, or so I thought. I still don’t think I have but this one may have been mind over matter and I retook the position with only metres to the finish.
Harmeny Pentland Runners and Pentland Triathletes were running an inter club race. I placed 2nd in the men’s race for the Triathletes with the Triathlete men taking the win. The women’s race was won by the runners. Overall I finished 121st out of around 250 finishers which shows the depth (or the youth) of the field as my finishing position at last year’s Borders series was usually in the top 40 out of 200. I am pleased with 40 min for the 9.4km which equates to an average pace of 4:19 min/km.
XC racing is a great way to stay motivated over the winter and get some speed training in at the same time. As mentioned above some races are open but a whole host of them are closed with Edinburgh based clubs competing in the Scottish East District League. Along with those benefits running off road really works on your run strength, core and balance.
If you fancy giving it a try, join one of the running clubs such as Harmeny for a chance of some muddy winter off road fun or seek out the open races available; one option there could be the Tri Trail Series organised by the Tri Centre. These winter XC races will benefit anyone if short or long course athlete, triathlete or distance runner. Go out there and have fun!
Thanks to Niall Darroch, Bob Marshall and Monica Novicki for the photos.