Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Guest article.....Cross Country, what's the problem?
You may have noticed that from time to time, I have some material written by other people on this blog. So, with that in mind, I hope to publish some articles by David O'Dwyer of East Cork AC here on a regular basis. David covers various topics from a personal point of view and if you agree, disagree or would just like to add a comment, click on the Comments link below this post. I would just like to say thanks to David for allowing his articles to be published here on this site. Hope you enjoy them.............John Desmond.

Cross Country, what’s the problem? David O'Dwyer
The cross country season is almost upon us and it will no doubt be the poor relation of the running family again this year. Over the past number of years as the popularity of the road running scene has grown there has been a trend in the opposite direction in relation to cross country races. The road running scene in Munster and in Cork in particular is quite strong, with respect to the numbers competing if not to the quality of times being recorded. In contrast the cross country scene is in serious if not terminal decline. In the 2007 Cork County Cross Country Championships a total of 36 competed in the Senior Mens race. This was once considered to be one of the premier events of the athletics calendar. In the womens equivalent a mere 14 completed the course. If the Junior races are a guide to the future then it does not look good with 11 Junior Men and 6 Junior Women taking part. A sad state of affairs no matter what way you look at it.

The reasons for the decline in the popularity of the cross country races are no doubt numerous and there is surely a link between this decline and the overall dip in the times being recorded on the roads. If the current trends continue not only will we see the end of the cross country scene but a further dumbing down of the road running scene with respect to the times being recorded. The road running scene is in danger of becoming the road jogging scene as people slow down to adjust the volume on their i-pods in preparation for a big sprint in the last 30 yards. The competitiveness that was there in previous generations is by and large non existent today, apart from the last 30 yards I suppose! The average participant these days doesn’t give too hoots about their time or place as long as they get their race T-shirt at the finish. Now I can hear the whingers already complaining that it’s about taking part not about winning, blah-de blah. Sure it is about taking part. There will only be one winner and the chances are it won't be you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be as good or as fast as you can be, does it? Where is the famed Celtic Tiger competitive edge? If Joe Blogs could break 30 mins for 5 miles 20 or 30 years ago then why isn’t Joe Blogs doing it now? Why not take the sport a little more seriously and put a bit more effort in? In doing so why not try the cross country races? Sure they’re tough and dirty and usually take place in a field that was recently occupied by a herd of cows (County Boards take note, a change of venue to parkland or somewhere that doesn’t contain cow pats might be worth considering) but the rewards will be worth it.

The likes of Dick Hooper and Jerry Kiernan, two of our most successful and best known names from the past would be strong advocates of a decent cross country season and the benefits to be gained from it. “The strength built up in the winter will stand you in good stead for the summer”, a common mantra from middle and long distance athletics coaches the world over.

Another benefit of running some cross country is that it gets you off the roads for a while and offers some relief to the pounding of the hard surfaces. After a decent season of cross country behind you, you’ll feel re-invigorated and fresh for another Spring and Summer on the roads and no doubt a few PB’s will be in the offing. It also offers something different to the sport of running. This is a welcome change if you feel you are becoming a little stale or even bored with the road running scene. A change is as good as a rest as they say!

There are numerous cross country races held throughout the country and some of them are perfect for the beginner. Most counties host a “County Novice” race and this would be an ideal opportunity for those with no previous experience of the cross country scene. There are also provincial and national events at Novice grade and for the more accomplished athlete there are the Intermediate and Senior equivalents.

If you’ve made the effort to run on the road then why not try the cross country, it will offer a welcome alternative to the roads.
The graph below displays the decline in the numbers participating in the Cork County Cross Country Championships over the past 2 years. (Stats taken from Cork Athletics website).

In addition to David O'Dwyer's articles appering on this website, David also has had some of his articles published in the Irish Runner magazine. This is published every 2 months and is the main magazine for running and athletics in Ireland.


To send a comment or to read other comments, click on the 'comment' link below.


Unknown said...

Very interesting article and indeed very encouraging for some, but maybe you shouldn’t lose sight of all those who have already triumphed personally by just getting out there and running on any surface and at any speed, for their own individual reasons. As for “Celtic Tiger competitiveness”, well just look where that’s got us..!

Anonymous said...

Great points and yes it would make a welcome break from the roads but a question I would ask is the following.
Is there the same flexibility as road races? Can I get up Sunday morning and head of to a cross country race and enter on the day.
I think this is what makes road races attractive to many.


Unknown said...

The author is a bit out of touch, and his attitude is the very reason why nobody will be flocking to the cross country races.

His ignorance of the effort expended at all levels in a road race paints a poor picture of elite and high level athletes.

Thankfully, they're not all like that, and most of them recognise that everybody puts in as much effort as they can.

Better to celebrate the effort put in at all levels than bemoan the falling standards at the top.

Back to the point. 2 suggested reasons why the crowds at XC won't compare to a road race.
1. People train on roads - not on grass. Maybe they should, but an absense of suitable traning grounds often precludes that.
2. Laps. Runners of all levels HATE getting lapped, and unless you're pretty quick, you can be sure it will happpen to you.

I used to think that XC was the preserve of the elite, and there was no place for me. The attitude of the author doesn't help. Thankfully some more enlightened individuals convinced me to give it a crack, and now I'm sold. Injury means I'll miss most of this year, but I'll be back.

Unknown said...

It is good to open up a debate on the state of cross country running in Cork and perhaps the state of running in Ireland in general. The factors mentioned in the article are just some of the reasons as to why X country is in decline. David must also note that everyone now has a much more sedentary lifestyle.This is possibly the biggest reason in decline in running in general. I do not agree with the argument of the loss of "Celtic Tiger competitiveness".
It is up to athletics clubs,schools and maybe even society to encourage more young people to stay active, to run and to provide higher levels of athletics coaching to build standards. Perhaps their has been a falloff in the standard of coaching in many clubs?
Runners, young and adult, need good coaching and running needs to be marketed to our modern generation as an attractive sport for everyone.
More parks and enough green space around the city and county to run on would help too.
All too often we hear the nostalgia about the great runners and running of previous decades. Yes, they were heroic sports stars and are great role models to us.
However ,we must place greater emphasis on building the runners of today positively. Give these athletes more credit and support for the talent they have!

GrangeWeb said...

We should welcome the increase in road races and not decry the pace of those who compete. In the BHAA run races a lot of these people are just out for a run slightly faster than their training pace and if quizzed would probably not even know what their typical mile pace was.

I think cross country is declining due the fact that club athletics overall is in decline and this is where typically the numbers have come from. Your typical road runner is not a cross country runner and the typical cross country field is 99% club runners while the road race field is a wide mix of club, company and non-affiliated.

I rarely see clubs looking for members at road races and if they were some of these might eventually go the cross country route.

Anonymous said...

Over the past 2 to 3 years I have really gotten into the road running scene in Cork. I was quite amazed initially by how many races there were and how easy it was to get involved. I am not actively part of an athletics club and from the results of all the road races it is clear that many others aren't either. (I did join our local club which has no adult members just so that I could run in an AAI road race in Whitechurch last February) This is the main reason why I don't participate in cross country races. I recently tried. I missed the entry deadline so I contacted my local club who told me to ring this guy in Co. Clare. It took about 3 days to get through to him and he didn't seem too impressed by my lateness. The fact that you can just turn up on the morning of a road race without having to be a member of a club or pre-register helps to attract numbers, so if something similar could be done for cross country races I'm sure numbers would increase. (In the end I turned up late for that cross country race, missed the start so I have still to experience the tough slog through the grass!)

Anonymous said...

I know it is not X-country but the spirit of the article agrees with your guest writer

RoyMcC said...

Like Alan above I think it's a great pity the author chooses to belittle the non-elite competitor. Some of us do the very best we can. How is that impacting negatively on those runners at the sharp end?

We all regret the fall in running standards, not only in Ireland but throughout Europe. But I'm not going to take part of the blame.

By the way, excellent blog.

John Desmond said...

The article that Fergus refers to above is 'How Oprah ruined the Marathon'. The link is HERE. If you click on the link and see an advert, just continue to the website.

Richard said...

I hope all the elites don't think like this. When I see the look on the face of a 4hr+ marathoner I realise that they are making the best effort they can....and it can be more of an achievement to them than to someone with a natural gift/physique for endurance running.

I do the BHAA beaumount cross country race every January and if there were more of them I'd do them as well. The 'turn up and run' nature of BHAA events is a big benefit. I agree with the point by KD about the clubs not recruiting after or before events. I'd love to get some structured training advice and have a group to do long runs with but from where I am it's like being at the bar and deciding between beamish, guinness and murphys!

I do think that all opinions are valid and that discussion is healthy and without 'challenging feedback' we'd end up as a bunch of lemmings!