The Future of Cross-Country

2017 marks the first time in IAAF history that both men and women will run the same distance at World Championships. As such, Athletics Canada held their first 10k championships at the end November. It was my third National XC Champs, and my second time running the 10km distance; thankfully (not thankfully?) I had the opportunity at Pan Am XC Champs in Venezuela in March of 2016.

I’ve had some time to reflect upon the race distance. Should it be 6km? 8k? 10k? Longer? Shorter?

I know no matter what my coaches will support my decision for what I want to run. They believe in supporting the athlete, their goals, and helping them achieve their potential. I know that they will support my initiative to ask for a 20km distance.

Why 20km? To start it seems like a happy divide between 0 and a marathon (42.2km). And yes halfway is 21.1, but 20 is a nice round number, which would make it easier for people who have to design the courses. 20km, would make it very challenging for anyone who runs anything less than 5000m, but cross-country isn’t a participation sport (right?).

April FOOLS!

Did I get you?! Ok now let’s talk about my March Madness with Cross-Country Running

NACAC XC 2017; Cross-Country Grounds, Boca Raton, FL
To be honest, I really was not excited to participate in the NACAC XC Championships. I saw it as an annoying .. I don’t know why I felt that way, I usually have such a positive outlook on things. I should have seen it as an opportunity to practice racing in advance of World Championships.

The race was held in Boca Raton at the beginning of March. I had hoped that training in the California heat would help acclimatize my body. California didn’t work out with heat as I wanted, but the good news was that when we woke up on race day on March 4th it wasn’t all that hot!

The race was held at South County Park. It was an 8k that followed some a very convoluted loop order. While it wasn’t hot it was definitely windy. My plan was to try to ‘hide’ for as long as possible.

The race finished with one of the big loops, which meant heading out into the wind but having it at your back through the long final back stretch. On the windy stretch there was about a 75m stretch where you were in the ‘lee’ of the wind.

As I rounded the corner to finish there was a final 100m section that was directly into the wind. It honestly felt like I ran into a wall when I made the corner. I had this panic thought go through my head, ‘oh my gosh they are going to catch me.’ And then I remembered, ‘oh yeah, they have to battle the wind too!’ So I made my final charge for the finish line.

And what a bonus, the team won the overall too. Cross-country is unique, it combines the individual with the team. Each individual score is counted, such that the team with the lowest score wins. Sometimes that goes to a tie, which it did in our case. In the end it was decided by the runner in the 4th scoring position; thank you Lisa Brooking for pushing as hard as you did to the end.

Officially my first international win. I ran smart. I loved doing it. I won with the help of my team. And I had so much fun doing it. This was the perfect confidence boost in advance of the World XC Championships in Kampala.

World Cross-Country Championships; Kololo (airstrip) Independence Grounds, Kampala, Uganda
I was a little nervous and a lot excited to travel to Africa and race in my first official World Championships. I knew there were two hurdles I had to overcome before I even approached the starting line; a seventeen hour flight and GI issues from the food and/or water. If you saw my post last week, you’ll know I got over one hurdle, but stumbled with another.

The Race. 10km at the Kololo Independence Grounds. To say the course was AWESOME, is an understatement. Fair. Challenging. Fast. Obstacles. A massive grandstand. It was like nothing I had ever raced on before and I couldn’t wait to test it out.

The race was 5 laps of the ~2 kilometre loop. While we were racing the same distance as the men we were not racing at the same time. The senior women’s race was scheduled for 3:55pm local time, i.e. hotter than hot in Africa at this time!

Every race isn’t going to be perfect. You have to be able to win on a ‘medium’ day. Now going in on empty, just doesn’t work. From about 500m in I knew that my lack of being to hold anything in the two previous days was going to get me. It wasn’t like my legs felt dead, it felt like my whole body was empty, my head was spinning, and it was easier to close one eye to see.

No regrets. I left everything out there. Each step was for my other five teammates. Cross-country isn’t an individual sport, it is a team sport. For my team I was pretty much willing to do anything to cross that finish line.  We as a team finished 9th.

Back to the Future of Cross-Country
I had the honour to represent Canada (and apparently the World) at the IAAF press conference in advance of the championships. Not only was it a huge honour to sit amongst some of the greats, but I had the opportunity to hear from Lord Seb Coe about his vision, as the lead of the IAAF, for cross-country running.

Lets start with his history. Lord Coe is a running legend, a master at middle distance (8’s and1500m), he was also a cross-country running champion. “A  proper [running] diet should include cross-country.” Now he is trying to bring back his love and passion for cross-country  helped him to become a champion.

I am so fortunate that my coach believes in cross-country as part of my training, but not all coaches are the same. Coe addressed the new coaching style that tends toward very specific speciality, tending to skip out on cross-country to do ‘track work.’ He denounces this and says to look not only to his training, but to the three Olympic Champions that were up on the podium with me; two of them were 1500m Olympic Champions and all three had been cross-country world champions. If cross-country makes me run like Faith Kipyegon and Asbel Kiprop, then I’m in!

There were 59 countries in attendance this year, the first time it has been up since the championships were held in 2007. I hope, and I know Lord Coe does too, that we see more federations at the World Championships. I believe that we all get better together when we all work together and aim for higher standards, faster times and if that means I finish even further back but my time and forms improves, I’m all for it.

My first world championships is in the books, and I cannot wait to try to work hard to see if I can try again one day.