16 Oct

Chris Broadbent's Country File

runners enjoying cross country

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.