Why all runners should try racing cross country

Everyone from Mo Farah to Paula Radcliffe cut their teeth on the cross-country circuit, and as is clear from their success, embracing the mud can have great crossover gains for road running. Here are three reasons why it pays to get down and dirty at any time of year. In winter you’ll be cold, wet and muddy, but that’s part of the fun. 

GET TOUGH 

No doubt about it, cross- country is hard on the body – and that’s why it works. ‘Running cross- country not only builds your physical strength but also your mental strength,’ says Tom Craggs, running coach with Running With Us (runningwithus.com). ‘It teaches you how much pain you can tolerate – often, that’s a lot more than you think.’ 

BOOST YOUR VO2

Short in duration but heavy in effort, a cross-country run is similar to a VO2 max session. These sessions – designed to improve the rate at which your body can transport oxygen to your muscles – are ideal for runners. ‘Cross-country is fast and furious,’ says Craggs. ‘I encourage my runners to go o fast and get themselves in a position they can try to defend. That’s very different to a road race, but that’s why cross-country is so exciting: it’s unique.’ 

FORGET YOUR SPLITS

Cross-country is racing in its purest form. ‘It breaks the GPS and personal best mindset,’ says Craggs. ‘It encourages people to run on feel rather than on pace. And, unlike many other races, it’s a team event – you run to help your team, not just yourself.’