Click here to download a list of all the events SGR compete in during the year.
(Above photo: The England National XC Champs at High Wycombe Feb 1978. Penny came 5th. Penny was then selected for England for the IAAF XC at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow in the March where she came 15th overall / 3rd English Lady).
Why do Cross Country? By Penny Forse
Andy Vernon, Gemma Steel, Mo Farah & Paula Radcliffe all do, or have done, cross-country (XC) as an essential part of their training for the track & road. If it's good enough for them – it's good enough for us I say. It can be hilly, muddy or snowy but the varying terrain builds leg strength and power, and the changing pace also challenges and improves our aerobic and anaerobic respiratory systems.
Running over uneven and unstable ground means that the muscles that stabilise our running action strengthen and become used to absorbing & dissipating shock. The resistance encountered in running up hills and through soft, sandy or muddy ground will help build strength. Maintaining momentum on such surfaces is hard work, to be sure, so our muscles react by getting stronger & more powerful without an increase in bulk - just look at the physiques of the XC runners at the front of the pack. XC can increase our core strength as it's not just our legs doing the work – many muscle groups come into play to prevent us going 'base over apex' when the going gets uneven, muddy or steeply downhill. We'll be able to lean into the downhill sections with a relaxed running style instead of leaning back and 'applying the brakes'.
So much for the physical benefits, but what about the mental ones? If we can run over uneven ground in all sorts of weather in the winter then just think how much easier it will be to do our track or road races in the relatively balmy climate of spring and summer. There's no need to compare times – each XC race is a different distance, and even if we run the same course 2 years on the trot, the ground & weather conditions will make it a unique experience. This means we can ditch our stopwatches and feel free to focus on beating other runners and not on our mile splits or pbs.
Runners of all abilities take part, so, for example, in the Hampshire Cross Country League beginners can rub shoulders with the elite while aiming to score a place in their club's A, B or C team. Standing by the team's club tent between races, with the club flag flying proudly in the breeze, we get a real sense of camaraderie. We've braved the elements, beaten some runners and conquered the course. The Southern Cross Country League (formerly Today's Runner) eliminates men running faster than 5m30s per mile, and women 6m00s per mile – so there's a chance to get a better position and be higher placed in our scoring teams.
The courses for both leagues, as well as the Southerns & Nationals are superb – but we mustn't forget the most important item – footwear. Spikes or trail shoes (for the HXCL) and trail shoes (for the SXCL / RR10s) are a must. In trainers you could be skating like Torvill and Dean! Go on, have a go and you'll love it like I do.