A run in the park: Learning to run cross country

This Saturday marked the first race in the cross country season. When the fixtures were initially announced R had coaxed me into signing up with the promise that it would be ‘fun’, when Saturday came around however, I was a little sceptical about how much fun it would actually be.

As my last few posts have been a bit philosophical it’s nice to come back to a good old running post.

This Saturday marked the first race in the cross country season. When the fixtures were initially announced R had coaxed me into signing up with the promise that it would be ‘fun’, when Saturday came around however, I was a little sceptical about how much fun it would actually be. As much as I love running, I’ve never been able shake my event anxiety and every race day I find my stomach churning with nerves (some days it’s so bad that I can’t even do a Park Run without feeling sick before). On top of which, the hip-opening 1 hour 45 minutes of yoga that I’d done the night before had left my upper ITB pretty sore, and I didn’t have any racing spikes, an apparent pre-requisite of cross country running.

New running spikes
New running spikes

The resolution to two of these problems came with a brisk walk to Runners Need in Kings Cross – the walk loosened up my limbs before the race and the shop offered some comfortable Adidas spikes at not too higher price.

It was actually the most perfect day for running, not too hot or cold, with just enough sunshine to see everyone in good spirits. The race was in Claybury, a place lost somewhere on the outer reaches of the central line, and consisted of two and a bit loops of a 3km course through woodland with two smallish hills.

Once I’d arrived and met with the other runners from my club I started to feel more at ease – not least as Petra, one of the girls that I train with, was there and it was her first cross country race too. Anna took us on a little warm up run together and by the time I reached the starting line I was actually rather looking forward to the race.

It was strange running in spikes at first, more as I was forced to avoid any spots of path rather than to seek them out as I would normally do. Although I’m used to running in minimal shoes with a forefoot strike, in my spikes I could feel each lump and bump of the course and my ankles were certainly taking more of a hit than usual. Still as the race went on I got more used to them and they did instil me with more confidence when running down the muddy hills.

Running cross country, showing the strain!
Running cross country, showing the strain!

In cross country women and men run separately and having the men cheering us on as we went was so nice and really gave me a boost when I started to flag. On the second lap the second hill really hit me, but with an encouraging cheer from the sidelines I managed a reasonably strong finish and, although it wasn’t the fastest I’ve ever run, I have to admit I really did enjoy it. It was so nice being outside and off the roads and the team atmosphere made for such a nice run.

There were a few minutes to grab a drink before the men’s race started and Petra and I found a good spot from which to cheer them on. Their race was slightly further – 8km rather than 6km – and you could see the strain on everyone’s faces on the third lap, as the knew what was coming up. However, everyone finished well and with some home-baked cakes and flasks of tea waiting at the end it was a jolly occasion all round.

I had scheduled a run on Sunday morning with my running buddy John, also from the club. My legs were surprisingly weary, given that the race had only been 6km, but the 1.5km from my house to meet John helped to ease them out a little. It was so nice having a commitment of someone to run with to get me out of bed and into my trainers.

We truncated our usual route, covering just 11.5km at a steady pace, but it was such a beautiful run along the canal in the morning sunshine and certainly made my bowl of porridge on my return all the more delicious.

Aquatic Centre
Aquatic Centre

Post-run, after a brief stopover at home to shower and gather my things, I enjoyed a trip to the Aquatic Centre at the Olympic Park with my pal Katie. The pool there is so beautiful and a good 40 minutes or so in the pool certainly helped to ease out the kinks of the running and yoga of the past couple of days. I love gliding through the water, stretching out my limbs and helping to re-balance my body after putting it though its paces elsewhere.

All in all it has been a perfect weekend of exercise and early nights, let’s hope it has readied my body for the onslaught that is the Frankfurt Book Fair next week!

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