Although cold, conditions in central Scotland last Saturday were dry.
Coupled with the fast, flat (for the most part) golf course, the Simplyhealth Great Stirling Cross Country races suited track runners best.
The 3-team competition may not have resulted in a massive field of runners.
But the rivalries were evident and promised intense racing over distances of 6km, for the women, 8km, for the men, and 4x 1,500m for the mixed relay.
Cross-Training Improves Racing
The most impressive performance of the meet was Elena Burkard’s 5-second victory in the women’s race.
The German’s patience during the first three laps meant she could attack the leader, GB’s Charlotte Arter, soon into the final lap.
Burkard replicated her triumph over Arter in the recent European Cross Country Championships.
Her posture and wide arm drive never faltered as she navigated the grassy fields.
More intriguing is the interview Burkard gave post-race.
She trains at cross country skiing camps.
She has learnt that to protect herself from injury she must train smartly.
Cross-training helps her maintain fitness and develop leg strength without the stressful pounding of excessive running.
Even though she admits she is poor at this winter sport, it obviously works as a supplementary activity.
Knowing the Route Beforehand Matters
During two of the three races, some athletes ran in the wrong direction.
Hillary Bor, in the men’s race, was still able to win the race, although by less than a second.
In the mixed relay, the US athlete on the second leg effectively lost her 50m lead due to her decision to veer off course.
Extra marshals positioned at specific points on the course would most likely have eradicated confusion.
However, the mistakes highlight an important issue.
All athletes should understand the race course well enough to navigate it alone.
If there is any uncertainty before the race, then clarity should be sought from the organisers.
The consequences can mean the difference between winning and losing.
Familiarity with Hills Builds Strength
The only testing hills on the course were an incline after the first 100m, and one at the end of each lap.
Although steep, both are short.
These stretches give the stronger, more technically superior athletes the edge.
On the final laps, during every race, the eventual winners would take their chance to power uphill.
They would gain both greater momentum and lead over their rivals.
This is a predictably effective strategy, as hill running is notoriously tiring.
If the athlete is primed for this challenge they have the ability to break their opponents.
Burkard in the women’s race, and Muir in the mixed relay, demonstrated the greatest willingness and correct technique.
They appeared to make light work of the otherwise hellish sections of the course.
The format of the competition, with athletes vying for individual and team glory (with either Team USA, Great Britain or Europe) is an exciting addition for spectators.
However, unsurprisingly, with more countries to select from, Europe are never likely to be threatened for the team trophy.