I’m standing. Lined up next to other runners- girls of varying age. I am filled with a sense of anticipation, dread, excitement and nervous energy. The young athletic beauties on either side of me are a flutter. They are smiling, some are in deep concentration and others look resolutely stoic as if in some trance to calm their young energy. In the back of my mind, is that niggling voice questioning my decision to line up at a cross-country event. What was I thinking at my age?
Cross-country? The stuff of high school carnivals and house colours. Those taxing events, in which my lungs would be screaming, the hills perplexing and the distance challenging. In that moment I am concerned. I am concerned about what others’ think of my decision to line up. I’m concerned that I’m too old, too slow, and that I don’t belong.
Then BANG! Once the gun goes off, all of these reservations disappear. The familiarity of the running motion takes over, I am calmed and in my element. The challenge of the undulating grassy course commands my attention and the picturesque natural backdrop creates interest and distraction. In adulthood, the 7km cross country distance, no longer feels like a marathon. The hills are more short and sharp, demanding reaction and agility rather than prolonged exertion. The terrain is a pleasure and before I know it I have crossed the finish line with a smile from ear to ear.
The apprehension I felt that day, is no different to what most runners experience when they first step out to join a new group, try a new event, or challenge themselves in a new way. We have all had those moments when we have felt displaced, out of our element, questioning our capabilities. Questioning- do we belong. This apprehension is natural but don’t let it be a deterrent to you. Don’t let it be a deterrent to you trying cross-country. There are people that are invested in encouraging you and supporting you to have go. There are women, mums and new runners who are feeling these very same things. Together, these challenges are easily overcome.
That day, I discovered cross-country was truly a lot of fun! It’s not just for teenagers and those who relish competition (although it’s great for that too). Indeed in many ways, it’s the perfect type of event for us mum runners!
An alternative to trail:
Women and mums love a good trail race and to be honest, I understand the pull. Cross-country has many of the characteristics of trail running: a natural running surface, hills and undulations, cornering and reaction to surface variables. Yet, the choice of distances are generally shorter than trail events meaning they serve as the perfect entry-point, progression or hit-out to a longer trail event. You can use a cross-country event to try out racing on grass, through mud and over hills. As your training progresses towards a longer trail event, cross-country can be the perfect bridge or middle ground to that goal. If you have a little more experience and are ready to run an ultra trail, then a shorter, faster event on similar terrain serves as the perfect sharpener without taking too much out of your legs.
Less time and expense:
From a training and event perspective, the time investment necessary to participate in cross-country is less than that for most trail events. As the distances are shorter and the course terrain can be largely duplicated around most homes, the amount of time spent training and travelling is less of an imposition on our day-to day lives. You don’t need any special equipment, footwear, clothing or other contingencies when you’re running cross-country either. If you own a pair of runners and some running clothes then you’re all set to have a go. No need for gels, bladders, space blankets, phones or anything else. Just like a fun run, you turn up; collect your bib and timing chip and run!
Expect to see lots of people lining the course at a cross-country event. Some courses are looped and most are contained meaning that the opportunity for spectator engagement is immense. The shorter distances and enclosed courses ensure that you are primarily running in the company or in close proximity to others. This means it’s less likely that you will be left running on your own for lengthy periods. Further, as mums we all understand the limitations that exist to have our families see us run. The distance of an event and visual accessibility to the course is the primary source of this limitation. The characteristics and nature of a cross-country course, optimizes the opportunities for your kids to see you run in full view of them. That is priceless. I don’t know about you, but for me, hearing my kids yell: “Go Mum!” or having my partner in sight, is all I need.
I would like you all to know that just like my transition into running, I didn’t just wake up one day and enter a cross-country event. First, I ran in a community of others, then I sought guidance and information, and finally worked my way towards entering. This process did not take away my apprehension but it did mitigate some of the fear associated with my leap of faith. In this way, experience, community and information create familiarity upon which we can all anchor our emotions to enable us to experience something new. Use the community and opportunities around you. They are abundant within RMA and broadly within our sport. In the cross-country space there are events open to everyone, for everyone. There are information sessions available, coaches and run leaders that can guide you, and support is always on hand. If you need guidance or direction, just ask! I will be running cross-country again this season because for me it is fun, challenging and exhilarating. I love getting muddy, running in the elements and doing it in the company of others. I hope many of you can take a leap of faith. I am looking forward to have you running alongside me, in community, at a cross-country event this winter.
For more information on cross country, you can register for one of the up coming Athletics NSW Cross Country workshops here.