The dark lonely place that is cross country

Cross country is hard..mentally and physically. And ,there’s only one way to prepare and that’s to occasionally visit what I call “that dark and lonely place “in training. Only when you grow accustomed to to the light can you truly find your way.

One of the benchmark sessions for this type of workout is Mile repetitions.A session you would work up to would be 5 x mile with 2 mins recovery (standing rest). You wouldn’t dive into to that though… you would probably start with 4 x mile with 3 mins recovery.

And it’s also not advisable to do this alone as its easy to get lost in the sea of total despair!This type of workout is best done in a team setting/training group where everyone is drawing inspiration from each other. Know your place in the group and set your sights further along the bus..nearer the front. In terms of location, the ideal setting is following the course of your home cross country course. So the first mile is the first mile of your course and so on and so on, working your way round just like the race itself. At the end of each repetition you remain in the same spot with standing rest so that everyone can do there own recovery. Some may jog around..some may lie on the ground in utter exhaustion..the point is you have options!

I used to do this session on a regular basis on a cross country course with a bunch of guys capable of running them well under 5 minutes and until that point the furthest repetitions I did were 1300m repetitions on road. The first few times you do the session just focus on getting through the workout without focusing too much on the intensity. However, once you have developed a taste for it then the following is a good way to approach the workout in terms of breaking it down.

You should be able to cruise through the first mile at a speed that will be close to you average – enjoy it.You should not have done much damage on this first one and you could probably go another 800m at the same speed if pressed. Mile 2 – bang it out. Up the effort marginally to achieve a similar result in terms of time.This one will sets the tone of the workout..if this one feels good you are on for a good one. Mile 3 – time to focus.Concentration is a key now. Make sure the effort is high enough as this and mile 4 are the ones where the time will slip.If one of these miles has a hill always factor that in if the time is slower. Mile 4 this is the critical one – the session is all about this one.Go out with intent forget there’s a fifth – leap of faith.

The fifth is all about use the last remaining fuel wisely. Aggression is good.Be fired up BUT don’t attack the first half. You want to throw it all in but don’t..resist the temptation. Running controlled is in some ways harder than going out hammer and tongs and then die and crawl home. At this point the ability at 800m to go should be marginal but you should have something ..go to the booster rockets to see you home.

How fast to run them?Depends on the course but I would expect you to run them at a pace 1 min / 2 mins faster than your best 10k time round a course. So if you ran 5 x 1 mile round your home XC course and averaged 6.30 then I would expect you could run 40/41 mins in a race. Back in the day I witnessed (from about 20 yards back) one of great friends John Nuttall who went on to win the National Cross Country average 4.40s for for this session and a few weeks later won the NCAA Cross country in 29.31 (10k) which is averaging 4.55 per mile.

I coach at Sevenoaks school and we have done this session a few times now.As an example the top two runners on the team have been averaging 5.30 and are capable of a 34 min 10k round the Knole Run course.

If you looking to do intervals I run a training group at The Walled Garden on Wednesday mornings and Sunday mornings at 9am. See my website for details.

One response to “The dark lonely place that is cross country

  1. Nice one Darrell good article and good session , well done . Take care !


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