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Cross Country heaven / hell is back!

26 October 2021

“I think I’m having a mile two moment!” a friend yelled as he ran past me on Sunday morning, up a hill through the woods during the first race of the Frostbite Friendly League cross country series. “I’m glad someone is!”, I thought, but too late to shout back even if I’d had the breath.  

Cross country season is back in England, and I was surprised to be happy about it, as we arrived at Priory Park in St Neots in Sunday morning sunshine. If you have ever run a cross country race you will know this feeling. You hate it, but you also love it – all of it all of the time. Not just that you hate the race, and love it when it’s finished (though also that).

Feeling sick with nerves beforehand, relief when the race starts, adrenaline kicking in for the first mile, realisation that this will go on for another 4 miles and you’ve definitely gone off too fast (always), gritting your teeth for the monster middle section, slowing down every time the throat tightens, speeding up again for the downhills. And then, no matter how slowly you’ve just been running, sprinting it in at the end like a 400m runner.

It’s so great to be out there again, burning our lungs and side stepping tree roots, cheering our teammates and vowing to do more hill training before the next one. If there’s a better fitness test out there than a series of 5 mile cross country races from October to March, I’d be surprised. I’ve run them in good weather and bad, coming off a summer of excellent training and one of injury. During marathon training, after a rest. They always tell you where you’re at.

So where am I at? I ran the first race (4.8 miles) one minute slower than my best time. It’s the first race of the series, and I’m never at peak fitness for it. But one minute off, after 18 months with no races and a lot of sitting at home on my arse? I’m happy with that. The best thing is that I didn’t feel like I couldn’t go faster at all, I just knew I couldn’t do it on Sunday. It’s still in there, my fitness. Got 5 more races to dig it out.

I really do vow to do some hill training now

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