A Triathlete’s take on XC

This winter I have taken a slightly different approach to my training. Over the past few years I haven’t done much racing outside triathlon, but this winter season my coach has got me to do some cross country racing as part of my winter training. My local Hampshire league cross country series provides a monthly hard run out, it’s a competitive league, but also gives me the opportunity to race along side the girls I train with throughout the year.

Since taking up triathlon I have found my run fitness and ability has improved as a result of my overall fitness being significantly better. This has given me a lot more confidence to push harder in training and also to put myself on the start line of races.

Racing in a sport that is no longer my primary focus is a nice way to satisfy my competitive instinct throughout the triathlon off season, it has also reminded me how much I love the simplicity of running. There’s very little ‘faff’ at a XC race. You can turn up an hour before the start, go for a jog to warm up, get your spikes on and you’re good to go.

To make up for this lack of physical race preparation I’ve noticed runners like to mentally ‘faff’ an awful lot before a race. Maybe it’s because there’s a lot of processes to focus on before a triathlon, such as checking into the athlete lounge, setting up your bike in transition, getting your wetsuit on etc that means there’s little time to get worked up and lost in your own thought. Or maybe runners are just more neurotic than triathletes? I am often a gal of few words, which means I listen and hear a lot. A warm up jog with a squad of runners before a XC, or even just a training session is brilliant listening. Getting a reason for a sub optimal performance in prior to a race/training session seems to have become a ritual. Woe betide an athlete admits to turning up to a race feeling good, rested and race ready…then there is no reason not to run well!! Why talk yourself out of the race before starting? I just don’t get it – when did it become the ‘done thing’ to let everyone know you feel rubbish before competing against them?

Maybe it’s because I’m focused on the bigger picture of the 2017 triathlon season that I turn up to a XC actually looking forward to racing. It’s a no pressure environment for me, a bit of fun. I’d usually have swam in the morning before going to the race, in my head that means I’m merely well warmed up. It’s a brilliant potential excuse lined up if ever I wanted one – but I would never share it with anyone voluntarily. I don’t care if I’ve swam hard for 2 hours that morning or tapered in to the race, I’m still there to try and win.

For me, there are little tactics involved in a triathlon run – I will run out of second transition and attempt to hold my tempo for as long as possible, then get to half way and attempt to push on. Very rarely would a pack of athletes find themselves in a tactical affair, jogging round for 9km and waiting for a sprint finish burn up.

Contrast this with the start of a cross country race where, from my perspective at least, it feels like a drag race to the first corner. Honestly, my legs can’t handle it – I’m used to 90 minutes of swimming and cycling to warm up before setting off on foot! So there I am mid pack looking like I’m playing the tactical game. I’m not. I’m just winding my legs up.

A triathlon is almost always raced on road, or at least solid ground. Cross country obviously is not. By this time of year the once solid grass has morphed into a sloppy, muddy puddle-fest and the only way to gain any traction is to don a pair of spikes with 15mm pins sticking out the bottom. Having spent the last 3 years predominately running and racing on tarmac, this has taken a little getting used to. But bloody hell is it good fun!!

Now we’re coming up to Christmas I have to hang my spikes up for the season (by this I mean leaving them in the bag I shoved them into after my final race last Saturday). I’ll be focusing on getting ready for the early season triathlons come the New Year and will switch my attention to a couple of road races.

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