Cross Country Running
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Every year sees an increase in the numbers participating in so-called cross-country running, and clubs spring into existence in bewildering succession, some to flourish with the growth of years, but many either to become absorbed in larger organisations, or else to die a natural death. In spite of this it is doubtful whether more than a small percentage of this number have any conception of the delights of real cross-country running, and it cannot be denied that the pastime has declined in popularity, and has lost caste amongst the educated classes. The reason, so far as London is concerned, is not difficult to understand. The rapid growth of the suburbs necessitates a longer train journey to reach the open country than formerly. Too many clubs are, through the exigencies of circumstances, compelled to have their head-quarters in thickly populated districts; and the appearance of clusters of runners, generally of very poor class and all too airily clad, splashing through muddy thoroughfares, is not an inspiring spectacle, and undoubtedly tends to prejudice the minds of those who have had no opportunity of becoming acquainted with the sport at its best.
Infinitely the most enjoyable and invigorating branch of cross-country running is the old-fashioned paper chase, introduced about the year 1867. It is with sorrow that we have to record the fact that every year the paper chase finds a smaller place in the fixture-card of leading clubs, and that it is being displaced by the ever-increasing number of races with their attendant prizes, which involve traversing two or three set courses so often as to become quite monotonous.
If a paper chase is to be successful, the details cannot be too carefully arranged. Two hares are chosen, preferably of equal calibre, possessing a knowledge( of the surrounding country. They should, before starting, have a general idea of the course they mean to steer. Each hare carries a long sausage-shaped bag supported from his shoulders, packed tight with printers' waste strips, which are recommended strongly in preference to squares of paper. It is essential to the success of the chase that a continuous trail shall be lightly laid ; and the practice in vogue at our Universities of laying the scent in patches some distance apart is to be condemned. If these ordinary bags are tightly packed, the paper, with judicious laying, will easily last ten miles. A clever pair of hares will lay several false scents to check the too rapid progress of the hounds, and by taking advantage of cover and varying the nature of the country as much as possible the run is made more interesting. The grace allowed the hares is usually ten minutes, but it should not exceed fifteen minutes, and the hounds can be despatched in fast and slow packs if found desirable; to maintain interest the hounds should always have a fair chance of catching the hares. Upon the hounds receiving a check, say in the middle of a field, the pack should at once spread out in fan shape, and on the scent being regained the fact should be notified by bugle or call. The distance traversed will, of course, vary considerably, but it should not exceed ten miles, for there are few runners who can last a longer distance without undue exhaustion. Some runners maintain their stride throughout, and we have even known instances of men who have kept on their toes throughout a long journey, but the majority of runners are not strangers to a temporary feeling of fatigue during some part of the journey-it may be over plough or going up hill-but they are recommended to make the effort to maintain a jog trot rather than indulge in the luxury of a walk, because it is found that alternately walking and running materially increases the fatigue in the long run.
The dress suitable for cross-country running is a pair of twill knickerbockers cut fairly short, so as not to interfere with the action of the knee, a thin merino vest, and sweater if the weather be bad, and indiarubber or spiked shoes, the latter being preferable as giving a better grip on the ground.
Training for the cross-country championships has now been reduced to a science; and the gentleman amateur, though he may be a first-class cross-country performer, is no longer able to hold the position of a few years ago, unless he is prepared to devote the whole of his leisure time to training. The championships are now usually run round race - courses or enclosed spaces, instead of over genuine cross-country, and the question of gate plays an all-important part ; this system is followed by betting with its attendant evils. If a competitor is training for a cross-country championship, say, ten miles, he is advised to take long road walks at a brisk pace, varied by occasional spins of two to four miles on the track or road, with a weekly run across country. Many runners fall into the fatal error of thinking the best form of training is to confine their work to cross-country, and to run from five to ten miles at repeated intervals. There could be no greater mistake, because they will quickly tend to become hopelessly slow, and moreover are likely to overstrain themselves and be quite unable to make the extra effort that is often called for at the crisis of the race.
The question of pace plays an important part in a cross-country race, and our experience is that scratch and back-mark men will find it advantageous to make the pace hot from the start, as, if fit, they are likely to maintain it fairly evenly throughout, whereas it is often difficult to increase the pace after a slow start, and as an illustration of this we may instance a cross-country championship, where it is generally recognised that the leading twenty at two miles will furnish the first fifteen at the finish.
No material alteration in the ordinary diet is recommended, the important point to bear in mind being that the training should be of such a character that the competitor turns up on the day of the race not only fit but anxious for his work.
We have dealt with the practical, rather than the historical, side of the question ; firstly, be-cause a record of performances is apt to become somewhat invidious, and, secondly, because there are not, and cannot be, any reliable cross-country records, owing to the marked differences in the nature of courses, and in their ever varying condition.
Over-anxious parents often place a veto upon cross-country running, but experience has amply proved that, given a sound constitution, the fear of overstrain ,is very little, and certainly no healthier or more invigorating recreation can be found.