Against The Elements: by Anna Boniface
Why Cross Country Will Improve Your Running
Run3D's Athlete, Anna Boniface, tells us why she loves cross country racing, and why it is so important for your winter training.
Cross country is often demonised by school day memories of bleak winters running around a muddy a field. Even many seasoned runners have traumatic tales and choose to sideline the cross country season in favour of winter road races or indoor track meets.
The National Cross Country Championships, often held at the prestigious Parliament Hill fields is one of the highlights of my running calendar. The array of club tents and athletes club colour war paint make it like a runners equivalent of Glastonbury. Watching the charge of the start of the senior men's race is somewhat like going to war.
I have always loved cross country. It puts the sport in the purest of forms. It’s just you against the elements. Time is irrelevant. It’s about competitive grit. It brings together all sorts of athletes into one race. Olympians to veterans, 800m athletes through to Ultra-runners all toughing it out together. Even as a marathon runner, the cross country season has been the core to my winter training and development as an athlete.
After exactly a year to the day out of competitive running, my first race back will be the start of the Hampshire Cross Country League. Competing for my club at our monthly league fixture is where it all began. It’s my bread and butter. It seems quite fitting for my comeback to be racing the cross country season.
Why is Cross Country so Valuable?
Being able to battle through a demanding cross country race gives you mental resilience. There’s always a point in the race when you want to give up. With each race, you gain confidence in knowing that you can withstand and endure any condition that is thrown at you. It produces mental toughness, essential for endurance running. No one is as fierce or determined as a seasoned cross country runner.
Makes You Strong
The variance in terrain strengthens muscles you didn’t know existed. The monotony of road running doesn’t provide the same value as the hills, the mud, the leaps and the twists and turns of off-road running. The instability strengthening your ankles and knee stabilisers. The driving up
steep hills works your glutes and arms. The steep descents improve eccentric leg strength. The dodging and tight turns enhance your core. A cross-country race is a whole body workout.
Race Yourself Fit
There’s no cardiovascular work out quite like it. Nothing gets your heart rate or respiratory rate up higher like cross country. A hard half an hours effort on the country will do wonders for your endurance fitness. It gives you bang for your buck for quick and effective adaptions to shift your physiology in the right direction.
Cross Country Camaraderie
Cross country although an individual pursuit, there is also a team element to it. Not only does team positions count but also supporting your teammates by giving each other a boost pre race and celebrating each others success afterwards. Getting out representing your club always feels special and makes you feel apart of something. Not only does it enhance club teamwork but also amongst athletes from other clubs. You duel it out with rivals over the cross country circuit, but ultimately once the race is over, you congratulate each other. Cross country is a friendly sport and a great community. Racing together, club mate or rival, you're in together.
Ultimately, if your aim is to become mentally tougher, get stronger or aerobically fitter, you won’t go wrong lacing up your 15mm spikes and race cross country. Be brave and get muddy!
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