I had an interval session today. Usually we go to University Parks and run on the relatively hard dirt path there. Instead due to the ice we went to South Parks an altogether grassy and muddy affair. To put it frankly I sunk.
I tend to have a very heavy and direct footfall which is extremely helpful when running on the roads. My stride is exceptionally short (in the middle of a track rep a training partner once turned to me and asked how I was taking two strides for his one!) and usually creates a very wasteful "slapping" noise but in a lot of ways this seems to help me on the roads. Each step I slam down comes back up with almost as much force which is fantastic and helps push me onto the next stride. The track gives a bit less response but still reasonable. Unfortunately when I then transition onto the grass and the country I end up losing all of that energy as it is directly absorbed into the ground. It is noticeable that in my best XC running this year it has been on courses which were mostly frozen over and often allowing me to run in even my road racing flats! Given a choice I choose my flats every time as can be seen in the picture below in the middle of a XC race.
So what does this tell us? Unfortunately not a great deal that we didn't already know. Some runners will run better on roads, some track and some XC. What it does perhaps suggest is that when training with other runners that sometimes you need to adjust your pacing and take the ego out of the equation a little. Yes when it comes to a road 10k I can beat runner Y by a minute but when it comes to hilly muddy and tough work-outs (Runner Y's speciality. Runner Y is a bit of a monster) then perhaps I need to step back a little and run with Runner Y rather than straining to keep ahead.
It also suggests that before running a succesful XC season, unless you manage to plan all of your races to be on fairly hard courses, you should be doing specific work-outs on the mud and the country rather than just roads, tracks, trails and light grass and that hopefully you will become more adapted to it. On the other-hand whilst I am sure you can improve on the country by training extensively on it the question remains as to whether this will improve your performances on other surfaces or remove some of the "advantage" you had on them.
I'm hopeful that the additional strength I gain by training on the country will pay off in terms of longer stride length and the like and that it will turn out to be very useful in the long run but for the moment I remain depressed that I go rapidly backwards when I start running on anything grass-esque. I am quite willing to accept this however if my main focus (the roads and then track) aren't affected at all but I do intend to keep an eye on this. Provided the gains are in addition rather than instead of I will be veyr happy. All I can hope for is that my XC courses remain frosted over for the forseeable future otherwise!
Racing in the Hertfordshire XC championships in racing flats. Thankfully the course was fairly frozen over and I was able to race to 8th place in my Herts Champs senior debut after taking second the year beforehand. I'm currently running with people in around 20th place. Without noticeably increasing my pace I ended up moving up to 8th within the first mile fairly swiftly as a lot of other runners were already dying but that's a matter for the next post...