Chris Broadbent underlines the joys of the season as he remembers his introduction to cross country...
We're heading through autumn towards winter and into the cross country season. It’s not a form of running that draws in the masses, instead it’s the classic discipline for the archetypal club runner. It’s grassroots British sport in every sense - no frills, mud, sweat, tears and blood, sometimes with a tea and cake afterwards.
I won’t pretend to be any good at cross country running. My rather lanky frame and lack of natural balance on particularly treacherous ground can make the whole thing a pretty Bambi-like struggle. Despite that, I find it hugely enjoyable and rewarding. Some of my fondest running memories come from cross country.
My first forays off-road came around 11-12 years ago in my early 30s into a thriving Scottish cross country scene. As a club member, I took my place in my first ever outing at an East District League Event at Stirling University. The ground was sticky and the pace was hot and I quickly learned there were no fun runners, everyone was serious about their running. After one lap I was struggling, yet still had two more to go. Yet I gritted it out and was overtaken by a green and white vested runner from Gala Harriers.
But as the winter months passed by, I got better and even landed some respectable top 50 finishes. My confidence was growing and my big target became the Scottish National Cross Country Championships where I set myself a target of a top 100 place at Falkirk’s Callendar Park. It felt like being part of the Grand National at the start as over 400 runners stampeded up the hill.
I set off briskly and though I was breathing hard, I felt stronger than at the start of the season and was maintaining it well. But 12k is a long way in cross country and towards the end, it had become a real strength sapping struggle. I steeled myself for the final home straight and just as I neared the finish, the same green and white vested Gala runner who had pipped me months earlier slipped by me. Hmmm, not much progress after all I dwelled, having finished 175th.
I had a similarly chastening experience when I revisited the cross country scene when newly settled in Devon. I took on the county championships in Exeter and found myself in a familiar struggle and I was admittedly out-toughed by some more hardened cross country veterans.
Yet both sustained cross country seasons taught me valuable running lessons. And I emerged stronger physically and mentally on each occasion. In Scotland, I set PBs in 10k and 5 mile races the following spring and in Devon, I went on to set my marathon PB a few months after the cross country season.
You see, cross country is not for those seeking instant gratification. But it can be hugely rewarding - eventually.