Sunday, 9 October 2011

Lucy Waterlow: Give Cross Country a go!

If you think running is all about pounding the pavements or circling the track, then think again. You could improve your endurance, competitive spirit and enjoy a run in the great outdoors, by taking up cross county. And lucky for you, St Albans Striders compete in a plethora of off-road events between October and March.

Many people think cross country is not for them if they are targeting a road race like a marathon but this doesn’t have to be the case. There are countless examples of top athletes who incorporate cross country racing into their training regime. To name but a few, top athletes like Seb Coe and Paula Radcliffe grew up taking part in cross country events, while Mo Farah competed in them at the start of the year before taking World Champ 5k gold in the summer.
It works for them, and it can work for you, because running off road improves your stamina and endurance, making you a stronger runner when you return to the road. This is because the uneven surface under foot and the up and down hill sections makes your muscles work harder improving your muscle strength and core stability. Running on a softer surface also makes you less likely to get injured as it gives your body a break from the impact of pounding hard surfaces like the road and track.

As well as the physical benefits, cross country racing is also good for your mind. No course is the same which means you can never get bored or feel like you’re running the same old route around the block. From running through woodland to skirting farmers’ fields and going through pretty parkland, the scenery certainly beats most road races. It’s also an event where you can truly experience the childlike joy of running – pace per mile and kilometre splits are all irrelevant here - it’s just about running as fast as you can and beating as many people as possible in the process. While you can’t track your progress in terms of a pb time, you can still measure your success by how your position compares throughout the league races or year-on-year in events like The National.

If you are new to running or don’t consider yourself to be speedy, there’s no reason  to dismiss cross country. It’s suitable for all abilities and ages. And if you finish outside the top 50, 100, or 200, your contribution still counts. Just like the Mid Week Road Race League, the cross country competitions we compete in are team events. The first to the last scorer all make a difference to where the team finishes.

So if I’ve
convinced you to give it ago, these are some of the races the Striders will be competing in this season and what you can do to join in…

Comprises clubs from Herts, Essex and Middlesex. Women run approx 6k (start time 13.55) and men 8k (start time 14.35). It’s for all abilities from elite athletes to beginners and snooker champ Ronnie O’Sullivan has even been known to take part.

·         Claybury,Saturday 8 October 2011
·         Trent Park,Saturday 14 January 2012

What to do: Turn up on the day (details of times and venues will appear on the message board, at club announcements and via email), collect a number from captains (Ed Blake for the men and myself for the women), run!, hand your finishing position ticket to captain, go home and eat well-deserved cake!
For more details
THE CHILTERN LEAGUE: Comprises clubs from the North West Home Counties. Unfortunately all but one of the dates clash with the Met League this year. Currently the Striders’ priority is getting teams out in the Met League but we also take part in the Chiltern League to give people greater opportunity to race over cross country. This friendly league is suitable for all abilities and particularly appealing to club members with sporty children as St Albans AC compete in it.Approx 6k for women and 8k for men.
·         Luton, Saturday 8 October 2011
·         Watford, Saturday 12 November 2011
·         St Albans, Saturday 3 December 2011
·         Slough, Saturday 14 January 2012
·         Wing, Saturday 11 February 2012
What to do: As with the Met League but see Deborah Steer who will be there with the St Albans AC squad for numbers. She will post details of each event on the message board beforehand so, if you can, let her know if you are attending so she can look out for you.
For more details visit:

THE SUNDAY CROSS COUNTRY LEAGUE: Slightly lower key and not as high standard competition as the Met and Chiltern League so a good introduction if you have never done cross country before. Clubs from the local area take part with men and women competing in the same race which is approx 5 miles.Suitable for all abilities. If you take part in four or more races you will be in with a chance of winning an individual age group prize at the end of the league.
Individual trophies are awarded as follows:  Senior Men, M40, and M50 - first five places. M60 - first three, M70 - winner.Senior Women, W35, and W45 - firstfive places. W55 – first three, W65 – winner. All races start at 10.30am.

·         Broxbourne, 23 October 2011
·         Trent Park, 20 November 2011
·         Watford, 11 December 2011
·         Digswell/Tewin, 15 January 2012
·         Royston, 19 February 2012
What to do: As the Met League except you don’t need to wear a number.

For more details visit: for results. The Watford Joggers website has some good information on the courses but please note at the time of writing, the site hadn’t been updated to say that this year all races will start at 10.30am, not 11am.

HERTS COUNTY CROSS COUNTRY: Individual and county medals up for grabs here and the chance to qualify to represent Herts in future races.Approx 8k for women and 12k for men.

When: Stevenage, Sunday 8 January 2012

What to do:
You must have been born in Herts or have been a resident in the county for at least nine months prior to the race to compete. Captains have to enter teams in advance so look out for details on the message board or via email. On the day, collect your number from captains.

For more details visit:

SOUTHERN CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPS: Regional event made up of clubs from the south of England.Approx 8k for women and 15k for men.

When:Stanmer Park, Brighton, Saturday 28 January 2012

What to do: Open to all club members of all abilities but you must be pre-entered by captains.

For more details visit:

THE NATIONAL CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPS: Prestigious and historic event which clubs across England take part in.Approx 8k for women and 12k for men.

When: Parliament Hill, London, Saturday 25 February 2012

What to do: Open to all club members of all abilities but you must be pre-entered by captains.

For more details visit:
There will also be some Vets only cross country races (age 35 and over for women and age 40 and over for men) across the season including the Southern Masters Champs on Saturday 10 December 2011 in Croydon which you must be pre-entered in by the captains. The County Vet Champswill take place on Sunday 18 March 2012 but further details on venue etc is still to be confirmed by the organisers.
We also take part in various cross country relays which are good fun - see the message board or keep your eyes peeled for relevant emails!

All these events are completely FREE so it's a much more economical way to compete and keep fit over the winter.

Finally, here’s a list of essentials you will need for cross country racing…

Striders vest:You must compete in a club vest for all the above events.

Layers: Wrap up warm with hats, gloves and a waterproof jacket before and after the race. Some courses can be exposed to the elements and races will go ahead come wind, rain or shine (just one thwarted by snow last year and that was due to safety fears over people travelling and parking at the venue).

Shoes:Some courses early in the season will be suitable for trainers, but
as the weather gets wetter and ground gets muddier, trail shoes or spikes are
essential. If you only plan to buy one or the other, trail shoes are more flexible as they give good grip in muddy sections but are more comfortable on courses which include harder surfaces such as gravel. However, cross country spikes can be bought cheaply (around £30) so are well worth having in addition to trail shoes as they give better grip on courses which are entirely grass/mud. Invest in some different length spike pins to insert in them so you can adapt the spike length according to the course (12-15mmbest for very muddy courses like Parliament Hill).
Pins: For attaching your number.

Change of socks: The socks you run in might get wet and there’s nothing worse than travelling home with stinky, damp feet!

Wet wipes:Great for wiping all that mud off your legs (and arms and face!). Don’t worry about getting muddy, it’s all part of the fun and it all comes out in the wash!
If you have any further questions about cross country running or want to find out more, contact xc men’s captain Ed Blake at or women’s xc captain Lucy Waterlow at

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