The past eight weeks have probably been the biggest challenge of my career both physically and mentally, but there isn’t much that can prepare you for American collegiate cross-country back in the UK. The next five weeks training since my last post were consistent, but not without their ups and downs. Expecting to hit where I left off at home I put over 80 miles into my third week here, then after running the home cross-country meet as part of training, the altitude really struck me down, spending the rest of the day completely bed ridden.
Since then I have kept my mileage lower, constantly erring on the side of caution and running to feel. I think my Garmin breaking was actually a blessing, and means I don’t even think about pace at all on easy days.
The structure of training is actually very simple, repetitive and consistent; we run a km’s or miles session, a 10 mile tempo and a long run in the foothills of the mountains; and apart from that just bog standard easy running. The only real difference to what i’m used to at home is everything is longer and slower, which has certainly made me aerobically stronger.
So our first race of the ‘regular season’ (which is actually only 2 races) was the Notre Dame Invitational in Indiana. A very twisty, technical course on a perfectly flat golf course made for typically fast American conditions despite lots of heavy rain. It’s a great experience to have everything taken care of on trips, with food/accommodation/transport all organised to mean the sole focus is on performing successfully for the team.
Despite a pretty crazy first couple of km’s where you literally had to stand still around the corners as it was so congested, I was satisfied with my debut collegiate race. It was a nice change to compete as a team and try and use each other to move through the field. I ended up in 30th place out of a 200 strong field; but more importantly we put five athletes in the top 50 to gain third place and some valuable victories over nationally ranked teams which aid your qualification to the National Championships.
A fortnight later, and we were back on a plane; this time to Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Invitational is the biggest event bar the National Championships, as we competed against 18 of the top 30 ranked teams in a field of 250 athletes. The purpose built cross-country course at the University was basically a manicured grass road through the autumnal Wisconsin woodlands, and apart from a few little mounds, very very fast! I just focused on being as comfortable as possible and aimed to move through when the lead group started to string out, which was 50 strong at halfway. I was pleased to run in a much more controlled manner than Notre Dame, as I moved through in the last couple of km’s to finish up 41st in 24:16 for the 5 mile course, to finish second New Mexican and help us to a 12th place team finish.
To put the standard of competition into context compared to a cross-country back in England, if you were one minute behind 20th place you’d have finished in 168th position, that’s over two athletes a second crossing the finish line. Apart from the World Cross, is there a cross-country setup in the world of that depth?
We are now entering the Championship stage of the season, starting with our Conference Championships in California next Friday morning, followed by the Regional and National Championships making it three races in the space of 23 days to close out the cross-country season.
Thanks for reading. Until next time.