The cross country portion of the running season is maybe my favourite portion of all, but this year we are having to do without.
Cross country isn’t a British-only concept, not by a long stretch, but something I’ve noticed when comparing my own experiences with some of the races that I’ve seen in the United States is that there is something about my experiences of XC which seemed to be somewhat missing…
I’m not saying America doesn’t have mud, but I don’t think I’ve run in any XC races which involved gracefully galloping around a gorgeously cut, painted green field beneath bright blue skies. Tell a lie, it happened once on a bizarrely warm day in October, but cross country to me is a distinctly muddy, chaotic event. This is why the events were culled so quickly from the calendar when Covid-struck – the whole point of XC disappears as soon as you start staggering the starts and trying to keep runners away from each other – as other road events managed to do before the second lockdown came into effect.
XC races are truly races. The only thing that matters is position, because what time you run is going to depend on just how grim the conditions are, and even on how much the course is getting churned up by runners in front of you, or have competed in separate category events before you get the chance to step foot on the track.
But there’s no races. Still, that’s no excuse is it? I can still get out and run, and I can certainly still go cross country. It’s warm, it’s wet. ‘Tis truly the season. You’re never going to hit top speed on dry grass let alone grass which is actually more mud than anything else, but it does make you strong. How could it not? Every step is a struggle. Even the most aggressive of trail shoes are going to suffer and slip in the custard consistency slop which sits in tracks furrowed by tractor, trailer, landrover, walking boot, horse hoof, dog paw. You’ll come out filthy, shoes one colour and one colour only, no matter how they started off. Embrace the madness, embrace the fact that most people wouldn’t make such a mad bastard decision as to try and run, and run hard, in such inhospitable footing, and you know what?
It’s pretty fun.
I don’t have any particular advice about running fast in mud, there is possibly some sort of technique for traversing it effectively, but I reckon you just want to feel like you’re working – don’t worry about pace, focus on effort. The same principles of good running form apply here, just in a more exaggerated sense. Get your feet off the ground quickly, keep your head up and chest out to prevent collapsing in on yourself. Keep your leg lift high, pump your arms, and drive your knees.
And take your shoes and socks off before going back in the house, you dirty scoundrel.