Cross Country - Emergency Services Games 2013

Finally the tests start. Race number one of four over the next five weeks. First up, a 10km cross country. It is one of the many events of the Victoria Police & Emergency Services Games. Last year I was lucky enough to take the outright win, and this time I felt like I was in similar, if not better form. Of course who turns up on the day has a lot to do with placings. Whatever the case this time I was in the mindset for a top effort.

Weather conditions were perfect, sunny and warm. The course had some minor changes again this year. Looks like a bit of extra distance was added again. Consensus after the race seems there was an extra 600m or so for the 10km, or 300m for each of the two 5km laps. Even allowing for the issues with GPS accuracy, I've since compared last year's map with this year and it is longer. Not meant to be easy, and I prefer a course that is too long than too short.

The run starts with a decent uphill over grass, recently mowed this year, so not too slow going. Then a good downhill, with a small rise takes up the first kilometre. Not too technical but a couple of points that require attention to footing. Then its a moderate downhill that gradually flattens out over a mix of dirt road, concrete bike path and gravel trail to the turnaround at about 3km. Back along the same path which amount to a false flat back to about 4.5km. From there we turn up a slightly rough dirt track which through up a steep 200m climb before flattening out over gravel for a return to the start at about 5.3km. The 5km runners finish here, myself and other 10k'ers repeat for fun.

A good turn out by the ambos, a relaxed start, excited kids and my wife having a crack at the 5km. A traditional start with the starter's pistol set everyone on their way. My tactics were to hold back a lot over the first kilometre to avoid any premature lactic acid build up and see how things panned out from there. The underlying strategy was then to treat the race as a time trial to get close to a best overall time and if I needed to make any moves, then it would be something very decisive.

For that first 1000m my body was relaxed and comfortable, but my mind was stressing about how many headed out in front of me. Reminding myself (a lot) that I had a plan and there was plenty of time to make up ground. It was likely going to cost me more if I hammered the start.

The field sorted itself out over the second kilometre. First place was already well ahead and looking to be in the next class. Going after him was suicide for the rest of my race. I was in sixth place with a regular challenger right on my shoulder. I soon had a feel for how everyone was traveling. Despite their initial lead out, I was extremely confident that two in front of me were going to fall well off their initial pace. Their styles looked like they were above their ability. This proved true before the turnaround at 3km. A younger ambo looked to be working too hard, but was an unknown quantity. He was worth keeping an eye even though I managed to move ahead by the turnaround.

Turning and heading back along the false flat I ran through a dashboard check. I seemed to going at the right intensity, I was feeling good and was pretty sure I was setting the race up for myself for the second lap. Of course place was cranking further ahead and really had to be forgotten. Now there were two rivals to consider. Both wearing the ambulance colours too. Adrian had taken the start out hard, but had now dropped back to a speed a bit slower than mine. That gap would close with the status quo. Mark has been a nemesis over the years in various events, mainly the half marathon at these games. He was someone to worry about. After the turn he turned up the dial, pushing ahead of me and closing the gap on Adrian. I chose not to respond, and wait for lap 2.

Up the hill and through the first lap. It was Mark, Adrian and myself in positions 2, 3 and 4 with no more than 50m between us. By the time we were over the first climb on lap 2, I'd taken that 2nd place position without an increase in effort. Down to the turnaround again I concentrated on holding my form and therefore maintaining my pace. It was getting a little harder, but well within expectations for 10km cross country.

At the turn with about 2km left, I was more than 2 minutes behind the leader, but only 12 seconds ahead of Mark in third and maybe 30 seconds up on 4th. Mark had me in his sights, but he looked to be working very hard to close the gap. Still feeling relatively good for this stage of the race I put all my concentrating into holding form and making the most of each stride. The burn was just beginning to show up through my legs, but I there was plenty of spring in them. Confident I had a big surge or sprint left in me, I didn't look behind until I hit the final climb. The gap was wider.

Heading uphill increased the heart rate, and things were a fair bit harder, but I was feeling pretty damn good for the end a 10km. Over the crest, a couple of looks over the shoulder to make sure before crossing line with my very enthusiastic 2 year old. The clock gave me 40:57, 3 or so minutes off the leader. The time doesn't look brilliant for a 10km, but if adding in an extra 600m and the slow going of the cross section, it is something I'm pretty happy with. So, that result gives me 2nd overall and second in my age group. My wife took away 2nd in her age group for the 5km and 5th female overall. So a little extra silverware for home for both of us.

A little analysis of the Garmin data, and reflection show a very steady effort. An almost linear heart rate profile, that climbs ever so gradually throughout the race, regardless of the terrain, means I truly time-trialled the distance. The only large increase came at the final climb, and it was only 8bpm anyway. As for how everything felt, what my race HR was compared to training and the paces I hit, it is clear I have my fitness dialled in for the half marathon. Those longer, higher paced runs appear to have payed off. Of course, we'll see if that's really the case next Sunday.


  1. Good racing Jason - well done. Right decision to hold back from the frantic start - the HR trace is a good indicator of how well you ran. Congrats to your wife too!

    Yes, not unusual to have the 'wrong' distance for a cross country race. Even the experts get it wrong - the 12k course at World XC was around 11.3k when remeasured.

  2. Thanks Ewen.

    I don't expect cross country races to completely accurate, and quite like the the fact that they're not. I just tried to work out the distance actually covered so I could use it has a reference point to compare past and current times. Helps me work out the follow up training.

  3. Good point Jason. Same here for our winter season races - I like it when the courses are marked the same to compare from year to year. At least these days with Garmins you can get a fairly good estimate of a course length by comparing what various Garmins say.


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