The leaves are changing. The rain is falling. So, you know what that means. It’s time to shake off that summer funk: cross country season begins again!
I opened my season on Saturday at University of Washington’s Sundodger Invitational. It was a Northwest cross country kind of day at West Seattle’s Lincoln Park with rain and mud and 284 of us sprinting 300m across a field to get to the place where the course narrows to a 5-foot-wide path. No polite road race starts (slower people in the back) here. Instead, due to the team-event nature of the sport, everyone starts together, lined up in starting boxes across a wide starting line. This is where things get dicey, and therefore makes the start one of the key elements to running a good cross country race.
Execute this well and you can settle into a pace and, if you’re on, continue to move up on the field. But get caught sleeping when the gun goes off (my usual M.O.) and you get stuck in the pack. When there are 284 people in the race, this means getting tangled up in the sea of legs and racing spikes, running a slower pace than you want to run, and spending valuable energy surging around others to improve your position. Due to an outside box position and a determination to go out hard, I actually managed to get a good start on Saturday.
Then there’s the varying terrain. Sundodger’s 6K course covers a grassy field, gravel paths, and some muddy spots for good measure.
Running on grass, gravel and trails uses stabilizing muscles that road running does not. I never thought much about tailoring my training to the different surfaces of cross country. But once I started running more on the trails around my house, I found it easier to handle the uncertain footing that changes in terrain create.
Last week’s long run included a two-mile tempo run at the park above. This began with a moderately paced 7-mile trail run getting to the park, two miles at 6:30/mi pace at the park, and 3 more miles to get home. Additionally, this is also the time of year when I swap out some track workouts for a rolling loop on local farmland.
Overall, and surprisingly to me, things went well at Sundodger. Training has been rough lately, but somehow things fell into place on Saturday. Though this was only the first meet of the season, I felt competitive amongst the college kids.
If you’ve been feeling stale on the roads lately, cross country is a fun alternative. This fall abounds with cross country opportunities. If you want to join a team, these local clubs all run cross country:
Then check out these local races this fall:
Saturday October 8, 2016: 43rd Annual Western Washington University Cross Country Classic
Saturday October 15, 2016: Emerald City Open
Sunday November 6, 2016: PNTF Open/Masters Cross Country Championships
Sunday November 20, 2016: USATF Northwest Region Open & Masters Cross Country Championships