Pacing Cross Country runs

Did my first xc race at the weekend.  Not in the same league as mudrunner and the like but five miles that were a bit hill, a bit muddy, spongy grass and 99% into a headwind. 

I realised as we were starting that I had no idea what sort of time I should be aiming for.  Mcmillian suggests that for a road race I should be aiming for 33.30 or 6:42m/m so I added a bit on an set of with 35 mins at 7:00 in my head.

After a couple of miles I slowed right down and finished in 36:03 or 7.14m/m. however, I managed to pick up the pace again towards the end and the final half mile I logged a respectable 6:19 pace, which suggests the slowing was more to do with lack of confidence rather than real fatigue.

I appreciate that one of the 'pleasures' of xc running is that every course is different, I just wondered if anyone could offer any tips or advice on pacing for xc events.


  • For an xc event I pace using my pulse rather than speed; pulse 'limit' varies according to distance. I allow it to go up a bit uphill and try to keep it up going back down (pulse that is!).

  • You will never race well over XC using your pulse monitor. It's about working hard and recovering during your race and then going again. Forget fancy devices and go by how you feel. There aren't any easy short cuts. Get out their racing, enjoy it and gain the experience you need.
  • I agree with SR. I don't think you can run your best XC race sticking to a pace schedule or heart rate. I think for senior men the races are usually 8k (5 miles) so I just take the approach of work hard at the start and keep working hard through to the finish! They are fantastic events.

  • PhilPubPhilPub ✭✭✭

    If you race regularly, XC is an excellent opportunity to practise pace judgement based on perceived effort.  I remember doing my first XC and glancing down at the watch, expecting to be about half way through the race, but seeing I'd run for about six minutes.  image  A five mile race, depending on just how difficult the course is, might take you longer than a 5 mile road race but still shorter than a 10k race, so use that to work out roughly how long you'll be racing and judge your effort accordingly.

    Some XC races are very easy, e.g. run in dry conditions over flattish grass/trails, in which case there's still some justification for using HR if you normally do, but on more difficult courses with lots of hills, mud, twisty turns, etc, where your rythm gets a lot more interrupted, it's best to run it by feel.  i.e., a little harder than you think ought to be comfortable, and hang on with grim determination.  image

  • If I turned up to a XC race without at least one of the requirements (mud, hills, twisty bits) I would be very disappointed indeed image

  • Men's X/C is not 5m/8k, it's 10k-12k! Perhaps Lou is actually Louise...
    About pacing, try and figure out the course beforehand, make sure you know how many laps it is, how long each lap is and so on. If you can work out the hills as well, so much the better. That way you'll roughly know what to expect and where you are in the race. But yes, it does need to be hard and fast for the majority of the race!

  • Pethead - Just checked the Sussex XC League page and they are definitely 8k. I have run in the County and Southern races which are 7.5 and 9.5 miles but the league races are always 8k for Sen and Vet men.

  • Whoops, my bad, sorry WiB! For the record, the Gloucester and Birmingham leagues are both around the 10K mark, as are my local and area championships. 

  • 5 miles, 9.5 miles! Oh well I am doing the wrong distances! My longest xc was 27miles last one was 10miles and the next is 16.1 miles with 3600ft of climbing! Silly old me!

  • Between 11 and 12 K in Herefordshire (although a couple have shorter versions for the women) - looks like counties do their own thing. As has been said before, you have to run by perceived effort. If it feels comfortable you are too slow! All of our courses are hilly and muddy, some have multiple water crossings and each has its own characteristic "testing bits". Any idea of a pre determined pace is a waste of time.

  • Thanks for the advice folks. As usual there are a number of options to consider.

    Race was five miles, I dont think it was an official xc league race, just a local race that happened to be round a farm.

    As I said earlier, I think the fade around midway was partly due to lack of confidence. I got the fear when I realised it was going to be tougher than I expected. With hindsight I could have tried to hold on better. Oh well - next time.

    BTW Pethead, Lou is not short for louise, its short for Dan.
  • Sorry LD, my bad again, seem to be making rather a lot of them today.
    SideBurn, I fear your fell and ultra races have some chronic self-identity problems...I can recommend a good counsellor!

  • Personally I wouldn't even wear a watch for an xc run as it just ruins your rhythm and makes you worry about your pace all the time. I recon xc is more about finishing as high as you can than the specific pace that you run as (as others have said) every course is different!
  • RicFRicF ✭✭✭

    Its a strange effect racing XC in that so many runners are prepared to unlease a level of effort that they wouldn't dare do in a road race. In XC I suppose, so many do this and blow up together that hardly anyone notices that they are now just shuffling along instead of sprinting. Mind you, you have to sprint sometimes on account of some courses having only a narrow strip of good ground. Another reason to sprint is mud. If you are in a multi lap race with 300+ runners, then its best to be at the front. The mud gets chunned into a worse surface each time a runner goes through it so best to get to it before the others do. 

  • SB - That sounds more like a fell race... and 27 miles is tiny. Get yourself to a long race before you start braggingimage

  • I think XC is good for you in racing terms. Grow some balls, ignore the watch/heart rate monitor/garmin and run how you feel and have some confidence in yourself and not electronic devices.
  • 27 miles was enough for me! It was one of the many that claim to be the hardest marathon! Am pushing up to the heady heights of a whole 30 miles next March! Have been told there is a 100 mile race in the lakes; but I think that is a honey trap for psychos! You just get a straight jacket, a padded cell and a section 136 slapped on you if you turn up! (Planning to do it in 2014 btw)

  • The Lakeland 100 is a cracking event. You will love it, I can promise it is no trap...

    SR - Yes, confidence. That is a good point. Plus to enjoy the suffering when it inevitably happens!

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