DIARY: Cross-Country dreamin’

Goals, goals, goals. What’s the target for Sunday’s Dublin Novice Cross-Country? My surprise (fluke?) performance in the National Half-Marathon meant I got myself picked for the A-team which adds changes the dynamic: Instead of racing in the B team and trying to prove I should have been in the A team, I need to race in the A team to justify being there. But as an experienced hand in this type of competition now, it’s not too big a risk especially as we have much more than the required four scorers in both the A and B teams. Hopefully having such a huge crowd of white shirts around will spur on a great performance.

Let’s look at previous history:


Last year proved a bit of a disaster for me, so my first aim to get back to improving on my time of 22:31 from 2009. This sounds like a big improvement over my weekend time of 23:57 but it needs to be considered the course was much slower than the Phoenix Park version and about 300m longer (that accounts for about 67-70 seconds extra).

My fastest ever cross-country paces have been in the Carlow race I did in winter (5k rather than 6k) and the Teacher’s BHAA race all the way back when I was preparing myself for the Dublin Marathon 2007.


If I can match a pace around these performances (let’s say 3:45min/km for ease of reference), I should be able to run around 22:08. This would be an almost ideal performance from my current fitness level. So is it possible?

Yesterday’s session

I could take some strong clues from the training session I ran yesterday. We had a very strong group of including Amidou, Jason, Niall Heffernan, our club captain Gary Park, Jeff Fitzsimons, James Clancy, Tim Chapman, Richie Healy, Jonathan Healy, Zoran Skrba, and John Barry. With strong wind and some reasonable tough uphill, our session consisting of 3x1 mile reps with 400m jog recovery followed by a 200m sprint with 200m recovery should showcase a lot of the capability for Sunday.

I asked all runners to set off on the first mile at the pace they wanted to use on Sunday during the Novice race. Yet, I am almost certain the majority of runners set off faster than they will potentially do with some sub-5:30 miles recorded on the first lap. My own first mile of 5:48 was quick enough and since it represents 3:36min/km pace, much quicker than I need to have a good run on Sunday (keeping such a pace would mean 21:15 for the Novice course, which does not seem realistic).

The body’s reaction to the pace is also interesting, during the second mile we all slowed as the wind really picked up. For me this meant a very slow 6:04 which was still the pace I need (3:46min/km). I recovered to do 5:53 for the third mile and then a very fast 200m at the end.


I believe in Mark Wetmore, the legendary Colorado Buffalo coach’s advice that you should run fast past any bottleneck then settle into steady pace for the first mile of the race and then start working your way through the field.

Ideally this will mean I can run a reasonable steady (3:45-3:50) first kilometre (so a mile in about 6:05) and then either stabilise there or work my way through it.

The only concerns have been that I got a strange little soreness on the left outside of my left foot after my hill session with Jason on Tuesday. This was perhaps because we were doing the downhill 400s in faster than 2:30min/km pace which is not a pace my body would be accustomed to doing very often (that, of course, is the point). This led me to cancel my 90-minute aerobic Wednesday run. I feel rebuilding endurance is the most important thing for me at the moment, so the timing has been very unfortunate in recent weeks than whenever I have had to cut a training session, it has always been the aerobic ones.

But on the flipside, my natural speed has returned to a degree I haven’t felt for years. Of course, this is only of limited help, it is not speed that limits our performance (the majority of athletes have plenty of speed), it is stamina. Hopefully, the mixed work of the last five weeks will be just enough to pull out a solid run for the team. I can find solace in the fact that my training has been dire for the last three months, and my current fitness is mainly down to better lifestyle. Once a proper routine is re-established, another performance peak is likely.


Colm O'Cnoic said…
Its XC. Forget about pace/times.

Its a race, just watch the intensity and lactic
Renny said…
Its not that clear-cut. The Phoenix Park course is more a golf-course than traditional XC and can be the course has remained the same since 2009 (making comparisons easy).

All races (road, hill, cross) need to be run "by feel". Splits and paces are merely information to evaluate the performance against (when people say they "try to hit paces" in a marathon, they are realy mistaken. They go for an intensity that is tolerable and hope it's around the pace they calculated for themselves). The same is the case for cross-country.

"Running by feel" is one of the five principles of the Lydiard system and all runners "in my stable" are told to run by intensity first and only then consult pace for more information. During racing, they are not encouraged to consult paces unless doing long-distance events as this disrupts race focus.

All that said, Mark Wetmore uses a system such as this in his successfull 23-year tenure as cross-country coach where training allows the runners to predict very precisely what mile pace they will run even across XC.

I know it is a nitpick, but what the lactic acid is not the cause of the "burn" we feel but is rather believed to be the hydrogen ions and other waste products that result from anaerobic metabolism. Immersing muscle tissue in lactic acid has shown to improve the performance of that muscle rather than detract from it.