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MERSEY & SURROUNDING AREA XC LEAGUES 2016/17
Date Liverpool & District North West Sun Mid Lancs Manchester & District Red Rose North Wales South East Lancs
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For those newer to this category of racing, here are some do's and don'ts for race day

Do's:

  • Cross‐country racing allows you to throw off the watch and return to the fundamental competitiveness of running ‐ you vs. the course, you vs. the competition and you vs. you. Enjoy this.
  • Invest in some waterproof shoes & kit so that you can convene with team in a muddy field somewhere and complete your warm up comfortably, feeling warm and dry even in the worst of conditions. You don't want to hit the start line wet‐through and shivering.
  • Capitalise on your strengths. If you are a good downhiller, then work the downhills. If you are a good uphiller, then make your move there.
  • Surge on every turn. Think "quick feet" as you slingshot yourself out of corners and gain vital seconds and yards.
  • Run not just to the top of hills but OVER the top of hills. Many runners relax when they get to the top of hills. The best runners run hard over the top of the hill to keep their pace going.
  • What's most important about cross is that it is a true Team Sport. Challenge yourself to catch runners in front of you. This is the fun of cross‐country. Place not pace; every position gained is an extra point scored in the team stakes. Each runner ahead of you is a target, so commit yourself to catching them.

Don'ts

  • Don't warm‐up on the hardest/most challenging terrain on the course. This will fatigue the body. Warm up on the smoothest part or even do most of the warm‐up on the roads with just a few minutes of warm‐up on the course.
  • Don't worry about pace. Worry about effort.
  • Don't go out too fast. Remember to be cautiously aggressive at the start but know that you'll need something in the tank for the back half of the race.
  • Whilst it's good to run strong through muddier or hillier sections, don't overcook them so much so that breathing and heart rate go through the roof and all that effort is then undone while you slip back to recovery pace for the minute or so after.
  • It's all about rhythm and feel, the more you do, the more you'll adapt and learn how to measure your effort.
  • Don't give up. Racing is hard. Racing cross‐country adds new challenges, so go into it with the mindset that you are ready to accept those challenges.

Footwear Choices ‐ Horses for Courses

Spiked shoes are the usual weapon of choice for the ultimate performance feel, but sometimes studded Fell Running shoes can be more appropriate. They grip almost as well as a spike in the soft and muddy sections, but will cope better on those courses having tarmac paths to cross, or even prolonged sections of hard‐packed trails like those at Leigh Sports Village and Astley Park in Chorley have. Spikes will get trashed on these surfaces for which they weren't designed. Plus, they are not built with cushioning in mind (designed essentially for grass) and so after 10k+ of racing these mixed surfaces, the legs can feel quite battered the next day vs running it with a more forgiving and versatile Fell shoe.

  • adidas XCS ‐ Well cushioned flexible spike. This season's version has a neoprene liner which will certainly add some comfort and warmth through those harsh Jan and Feb Fixtures. Plus the upper has a more 'cleanable' finish to it. Those adi fans who don't take to the new neoprene liner should grab prior versions of XCS while stocks last.
  • Saucony Havok XC ‐ A true cushioned and flexi xc spike like the adi option, but with a super contoured fit that hugs the foot like no other. Best choice if you like a race shoe that neatly follows the shape of the foot
  • Brooks Mach ‐ Great point of difference to the others. Has a more aggressive track‐like feel to it that is a little more propulsive and puts you more on to your toes.
  • Inov8 X-Talon ‐ Industry leader in the mudlark category. Shoe of choice for many UK Fell racers, obstacle course racers as well as being popular on the feet of many xc racers. Best choice anywhere where it's essentially a bit of a pigsty but that demands the versatility that a spiked shoe can't provide. Plus a great training shoe option for those who do Sat morn xc training sessions when not racing, as most of us don't tend to train in our spikes but save em for race day.

Additionally, I have always found it vital to have a good trail shoe that is more water resistant (ideally waterproof) and that has decent grip to ensure I make it to the start line warm and dry. Not good prep for a race by being wet and cold. If you're more comfortable you'll perform better. Plus better grip than your road shoes means you're less likely to end up on your arse on the warm‐up jog!

Spike Length & Care

All Spiked Shoes come with a standard 9mm pack of screw‐in spikes. A sort of medium length global one size fits all. However, in the North West of England 9's a rarely enough and this reflects in our sales which are almost exclusively the 12mm and 15mm packs.

When screwing‐in new spikes it's wise to apply a touch of Vaseline to the threaded end so that it is easier to get them out when the need arises. Spikes that have been in place for an entire season, bearing the weight of tens of thousands of impacts and consistently getting wet and muddy are bound to degrade as any such screw and nut would. They will rust and be very difficult to remove. Also, whist they need to be tightened well enough so that they don't work themselves loose mid‐race, don't tighten them like your life depended on it as they'll then be impossible to loosen again. If you want to clean them between races, go for the bucket of water in back yard/garden and leave it at that. Don't be tempted to then put them in the washing machine as this will fast-track their demise (should apply to any run shoe, but particularly spikes). As above, courses with hard/firm sections can cause spikes to bend irreparably or to force the spike housing deeper into the mid-sole and out of kilter with all the rest. This is why it can pay‐off to have a fell shoe for certain courses.

Apparel

For most it is traditional race short (or baggy) and vest. But beyond this there are other considerations. Here's my top tips.

  • Arm Sleeves ‐ we race xc at coldest times of the year and our extremities often never warm‐up. Throwing a long sleeve tee on under a vest to keep the arms warm will do the job, but our trunk temperature does not drop much (thermo regulation) and so what happens is once you're 10 mins in, or on your first hill climb, the double layering of vest and tee is over‐kill and you get too hot. Arm Warmers keep those vulnerable arms warm without over‐heating the rest of the body.
  • Calf Sleeves/Compression socks ‐ Triple whammy benefit to these:
    • Keep the Achilles and calf supported ‐ particularly important in cross when the feet are constantly searching for grip and stressing the lower limb muscles
    • Extra Warmth in coldest months of year
    • More superficially, you have really clean lower legs once you peel them off post race!
  • Short Tights ‐ Light, keep the quads more supported than regular shorts and help with chaffing issues
  • Full Tight ‐ a 'no‐no'. Get too heavy with mud and restrict natural motion ‐ not good for performance.
  • Hat and gloves ‐ only need to be lightweight, but need to come in to play in the very harshest conditions. Can always be taken off and thrown to an obliging friend or family spectator if you get too warm mid race! Always vital for staying warm pre-race though.
  • Waterproofs ‐ Invariably you spend a good hour or often more at these race meets before you tow the line so it's wise to invest in an lightweight runnable outer layer that will keep you dry and comfortable. A waterproof, or at least shower‐proof lightweight pant with zips at the bottom (for ease of removal over shoes) are great to wear over the run tights or tracksters to prevent you getting soaked and chilled to the bone. Traditional tracksuit bottoms are not as good. When they get wet, they get heavy and more uncomfortable than more practical and runnable tights or leggings.