The Road is Always Long

My journey through the world of ultra marathons.

Monthly Archives: February 2018

The Road to Durban -Part II

Calling Time on Cross Country

Start of Master's Cross Country 2018 - From Brian Howie

Start of the master’s cross country championships – courtesy of Brian Howie.

After a decent marathon a few weeks ago, I went into the Scottish Masters Cross Country Championships in buoyant mood, thinking I am in half decent shape, not at the top, but getting there.  If the cross country course suits me, I could have a decent run out and I can’t say that for many cross country races I have done over the years.  I have a love hate relationship with cross country.  Essentially, I love it.  It is raw sport.  In Scotland most cross country races are in real fields and more wilder areas than you see around the rest of the world where parkland seems to be the norm.  In Scotland it is rough, sometimes farmland where you are mixing it up where cows or sheep or possible some crops have been for the rest of the year.  This land has usually had the full elements of a Scottish winter applied to it as well, just to add another dimension to how difficult some courses are.  Yesterday was all of that with some ‘obstacles’ thrown in.  For the purists, this was the perfect course, loads of mud, rough, sticky mud, one lad in front of me lost his shoe in the first lap. It had hills, it was on rough farmland, it had fallen trees, tree roots, sharp turns, narrow channels, little sharp inclines.  It was a leg sapping course, probably one of the best ones I have run over.

And I hated every single minute of it.  My frustration at my inability to run on this type of course overflowed yesterday.  Half way into the first short lap (it was one short lap and to long laps that made up the 8k distance) I called time on cross country.  I spent the rest of the race just trying to stay upright, just trying to put one foot in front the other.  I was slipping, sliding and stumbling all over the place, while I watched other seemingly glide through the mud.  Why am I doing this again?  Over the years I can say I’ve had maybe one or two half decent races over the country.  Once at the masters champs in Forres a few years where I was suffering from a virus and still managed a 12th or 13th spot and another at Falkirk nationals in 2009 where I might have finished in the top 70.  Both races were on hard packed, maybe frosty, ground, not too dissimilar to tarmac!  Kilmarnock’s course was the exact opposite, shin deep sludge on winter farmland.  I’ve also been lucky enough to represent my country twice over the cross country for the Scottish Master’s team.  I suspect my selection has been based on road speed than my ability over the country.  Both times have been great experiences despite my poor performances.

27500301_961683120656892_2600252816256579501_o

Taking it easier in Dean Park, Kilmarnock – photo taken from Kenny Phillips

After the race, I didn’t wallow in self pity, this is not a self pity blog, this is realism and I was realistic and pragmatic about my next steps:  I was going to put it behind me and get on with training for Comrades, after all, that is the goal for the first half of the year.  Some of my fellow Edinburgh AC lads had great runs, Leon (4th overall) and Chris spring to mind and seemed to enjoy that type of underfoot conditions.  I’m delighted for them, Leon had a great race coming back from a 3 week forced training break due to illness.

When I got back home a looked at my Garmin stats my average HR for the race was 162.  That is low for such a short race, my recent marathon average HR was 164, so it shows the lack of effort in the performance, it should have been in the mid 170’s. Converting that from road paces, I should have been about 30-40 seconds per mile quicker had I got my heart rate up into the mid 170’s.

Speaking about the recent trip down south for the Gloucester marathon.  The idea (if you read my last blog post) was to go down to Gloucester, run a sub 3 and head home.  Most of you will already know that it didn’t quite go as planned.  I felt really good on the day and decided to go out at a comfortable pace.  6 miles went past in 36 minute bang on.  Oops, there goes the plan of a controlled sub 3!  It was a little quicker than I had hoped for, but it was under control.  We hit the first hill and the pace got slowed.  Half way came up at 1:21 and that pace was maintained to the end.  Well nearly the end.  At 24 miles I could see someone closing fast, so I had to dig a little deeper to maintain my pace and was delighted to cross the line first in 2:42.  It was especially pleasing as I could have gotten a few more minutes off that time, if it had been a target race, meaning my fitness is coming back and Paul is slowly getting me into good shape.  There are still 4 months until Comrades, that is a long time in training terms but it means I still have loads more training adaptations to come!