id174-Cross country in the 1930s

Written by DB   

A TREATISE ON CROSS COUNTRY RUNNING IN THE 1930s

(This paper was written by Bert Long of Polytechnic Harriers as background to a lecture and was recently rediscovered amongst the effects of his late daughter,Daphne. It appears to be the original and is finely written in beautiful copper-plate handwriting,and comes with a set of prompt cards! The item is now in the University of Westminster's Archives Dept in Central London,as part of a large collection of Polytechnic Harriers memorabilia

Bert Long was a long-time competitor and administrator with a competitive record which included a 9th place in the 1914 National Cross Country Champs,single figure placings in the Southern CC Champs and North of Thames CC Champs from as early as 1907 and as late as 1922,a best 3 miles time of 14mins.56.6 in 1911 and several club championship wins at 4 miles on the track and 10 miles over the country. He served as General Secretary of the club from 1940 - 1948 and held things together when the ranks were decimated by the call to arms in WW2. The Club's 5 miles Cross Country trophy was presented by him and bears his name)

CROSS COUNTRY RUNNING is essentially a sporting recreation, fostering as it does, the true spirit of sport - Team Work. In my opinion, it is the finer side of Athletics, although with the development of relay racing on the track the summer season is rapidly acquiring that spirit of co-operation which does so much to produce true sportsmen.When one reflects, the very term Cross Country at once takes our minds to fresh air, which is the major essential for the purification of our blood.

Let me emphasise the advantage to all anticipating the taking-up of Athletics the necessity of making a study of Elementary Anatomy and Physiology. It would be a great advantage to the athletes and the Sport in general if all Instructors and Coaches would stress this point.By a study of the make-up of our bodies, we learn a great deal that is necessary knowledge, if training is to be so carried out that the athlete will be self conscious when the limits of nature have been reached. The circulatory system is a wonderfully interesting subject and one that proves most vital to the successful development of a sound athlete.

It should be the practice of all athletes before starting activities each year to pay a visit to their doctor for an examination. By this means injury will often be prevented and Athletics will not be blamed for unfortunate and preventable occurences - which oft times do a great deal of harm to the sport.With a good knowledge of ourselves and the functions of the body, an athlete is well equipped with the necessary knowledge of serious consequences of abuses of the delicate functions of the body. The avoidance of these various abuses should be made a special resolve of all athletes.

It is very difficult to put forward a definite scheme of training to suit all athletes - experience alone of the advantages of the various methods being a sure guide, but certain general principles may profitably be adopted by all taking up athletics.Good health is essential to produce a successful athlete, and a study of the best methods to attaining this will be most profitable to all.

A general symmetrical development of all the muscles and organs of the body should be aimed at; to secure this, regular physical exercises should be indulged in morning and evening.It is easy to make quite a habit of these, so that they become a part of our dressing and undressing, so to speak. In this way they do not become irksome to a keen person, but a pleasure to perform and the benefit derived to general health is quickly apparent and appreciated.

I propose at the conclusion of this lecture, should my listeners wish, to demonstrate a few of the exercises which I have found most helpful to me during many years of active athletics. Again, it is here necessary to point out the suggested exercises may not be suitable to all, but I feel sure that a selection can profitably be made to suit all.

Young persons starting athletics should use great care not to overtrain in their enthusiasm to get fit quickly. It was just chance I personally took up Athletics as a sport and I should like to relate my early experiences.

I was spending my summer holiday in the country, and after a bathe in the river several took a run round the field and in the judgement of an elder brother two of us could run fairly well. It was immediately suggested both of us should enter for the open mile handicap at a sports meeting to be held a fortnight later. I went into quite serious training for a fortnight and, although given 185 yards start(my age was then 16), it proved I had lost pace instead of gaining as a result of my training and could not finish the race.

It would be well for lads to run for a season without racing, just turning out regularly ,paying keen attention to stride, carriage and breathing, following this up by carrying out various exercises - deep breathing is a most important item. The latter should be carried out in the open fresh air - the best method I know is to empty the lungs of impure air as much as possible by exhaling, pressing down the diaphragm(or abdominal breathing). Then inhale in two or three intakes through the nostrils, holding the breath about half a dozen times. Special attention must be paid to the teeth, well brushing and gargling at least twice a day - morning and evening .Smoking and alcohol should be avoided. It is much better not to adopt the habit of smoking and drinking than to be worried by the necessity of having to refrain by checking these habits. Walking is a necessary exercise for all athletes and it is one of the most helpful aids to fitness in practically all branches of the sport. I am afraid the value of walking, as it is such a natural exercise, is not fully appreciated. When one reflects, it takes very little longer to walk when making a short journey than it takes to get to a bus or tram route and chance traffic hold-up. It is quite easy to walk 5 or 6 minutes each evening without realising any fatigue, and thus accomplish quite a beneficial aid to one?s training.

There appears to be divided forces as to the value of massage; personally I am in favour of massage, as applied oneself or by an experienced masseur. Massage as applied by a masseur must not be confused with a rubdown by an inexperienced manipulator or rubberdown. It is much better to refrain from massage than to receive the attention of inexperienced masseurs or manipulators. There is absolutely no question a great deal of harm is done to the delicate muscles by harsh manipulation. In this connection, a student of physiology has a distinct advantage with the knowledge acquired of the body. If a daily bath is not indulged in, a body massage night and morning with the aid of a fairly rough towel is a good substitute. This should be carried out immediately following the physical exercises. Care should be taken to aid the circulation by rubbing in the direction the blood is travelling in the veins viz. towards the heart. If rubbing or massage is applied in the wrong direction there is danger of damage being done to the cups of the veins. This should be avoided by all athletes, as the presence of varicose veins is quite a handicap, necessitating extra care and anxiety on the athlete in addition to the interference to free movement of the muscles. I am satisfied from experience varicose veins need not prevent a person from participating in sport, providing the necessary care and attention is paid to the disability.

Now let us assume a lad had followed out a course to aid development and now wishes to start active cross country running. A cross country run of say 2 to 3 miles should be indulged in each week under personal supervision of an experienced adult athlete, who should watch for signs of distress and order the pace according to the condition of his charge. I do not think it is possible to take a cross country run even when one is feeling fit and well, without at some period of the journey feeling some distress. Experience alone will tell the athlete how to nurse oneself during this period of distress,and it eventually becomes quite natural to respond to nature.But in the case of a beginner,it is essential that someone with the necessary experience shall be at hand to use their head to aid the distressed youngster at this period to avoid the possibility of overdistressing ,resulting in straining and injury. When this period is being experienced,it is necessary to slow up but the runner should continue to progress by running very slowly in preference to walking. One finds it difficult sometimes to resume running after a stop or a prolonged walk has been introduced.

This would,I think,be a favourable opportunity of pointing out the advantage of this slow action running to the many cross country pack spoilers,who always insist on getting over an obstacle first and then forgetting they are a unit of a pack,the remaining units of which have still to negotiate the obstacle. This pack spoiler assumes his ordinary pace immediately he is clear of the obstacle,instead of adopting the very profitable action of slow running,thus giving the whole pack reasonable chance of again uniting and moving forward as a pack until the next obstacle is encountered. The class of person I have just referred to is present in every club and forms a unit of almost every pack unless pack leaders and whippers-in are very watchful - and much harm is done to the sport. What should be enjoyable training runs develop into races owing to first one and then another runner who forces the pace and goes ahead of the pack leader. I feel quite convinced the majority of these pack spoilers leave their best running on these jaunts and it is quite noticeable the same runners very often fail to produce their proper form in serious races. It is not necessary for the fastest runner to be selected as pacemaker. A better result is more likely to be achieved by the selection of a runner of average pace. The pack would then comprise of 50% above the happy medium and 50% below,and providing the pack has been selected with judgement,a most enjoyable training run should result.

During training runs the runners should endeavour to watch points,such as carriage,breathing,length of stride - and if in doubt on any point ask questions of the pack leader. It is much better for members of a pack to ask questions on various difficulties as they present themselves than to expect the pack leader to be able to know just what is puzzling the members of his pack. Another important thing is to watch when approaching an obstacle and judge how you intend to negotiate the obstacle when it is your turn. Judgement should be used - how and where to approach the obstacle - if a wide front is presented,which part will be clear of other runners - whether you intend to get over,through or under in preference to jumping or leaping the obstacle. Here again it must rest with the individual?s ability in negotiating obstacles. I had an excellent opportunity of putting this to the test when competing over 10 miles for the third win for a Challenge Trophy,.My most dangerous opponent was a first class steeplechaser,and he was also trying to score his third win for the trophy. For about 6 miles,we were equal,he first over each obstacle and between each obstacle ,I was able to make up ground and get on equal terms.I then decided to race him for each obstacle and this tactic proved successful. My clubmate failed at a rather high gate and took a second attempt,just giving me time to get a lead - and eventually the trophy.

When very rough country is being traversed,the stride should be shortened,otherwise distress will result. Plough should be covered by adopting a suitable stride to land each foot on the top of a furrow,always remembering the higher ground is usually drier. Furrowed fields should be negotiated by endeavouring to stride from crest to crest - if this is not possible,try and stick halfway between base and crest,and thus avoid the distressing experience of one stride finishing on the crown and the next at the bottom of the furrow.

The best method to prevent too great an accumulation of earth etc to the running shoes is to blacklead the soles,remembering of course to obtain a good polish,thus making it difficult for the dirt to adhere. When and where possible,spikes should always be worn;better progress can be obtained with less energy. Should the course be rough or over frozen ground,a bandage round the small of the leg,or round the waist of foot and figure of eight over the ankle and round small of leg ,is a good precaution,but care is necessary. If too tight,discomfort will result and ,if too loose,there is a danger of catching spikes in the bandage,probably resulting in a fall. Opinions as to the arm swing are very varied,but it must be remembered cross country running is quite different from track running. It is essentail to avoid stiffness and overstriding,always bearing in mind,should the foot get into a rut,the body be free to roll in the same direction to avoid a sprain or strain. This does not mean a ?B? line should not be the correct progression,but runners should be quick to respond to any necessity for a sudden change of direction. The arms should swing freely,the shoulders being raised slightly also with the movement of the shoulder blades. There should also be a movement of the hinge joint of the elbow;this aids circulation and prevents cramping of the muscles. Do not hook the elbows too far back but bring the hands alternately in front of the body about on a level with the hips. The head should be carried loosely in a line with the body.- there is a general tendency to throw the head back and bring the arms up when distressed. When a rough time is being experienced,to aid concentration it is helpful to repeat the phrase - ?I must stride?. Ground is usually lost during these distressing periods through forgetting to continue to stride out. Refrain from worrying about the distance from the runner in front and concentrate on the ?I must stride? until better times return. Then it is absolutely necessary to use one?s head.There is the natural desire to make up leaway;this should be done with good judgment,and not with a rush.The runner should spot various competitors in front and resolve to get on level terms with them in a certain distance. If their judgement has been good,this can be repeated until the athlete?s level has been rceovered.

It is advisable to tie a moistened handkerchief loosely round the wrist so that when one is experiencing the distressed period,the lips can be freshened by the removal of any accumulation of saliva. The cleansing of the nostrils is also a necessity- otherwise the breathing will be hampered,causing additional distress.

By experience only ,one learns to guage the adoption of pace for the various distances of the races i.e. running with judgement. It is no use for an inexperienced runner to endeavour to keep up with the leaders for as long a period as possible and then as a penalty drop back behind his proper position as a result. Runners should try and work out before a race the approximate position they ought to achieve and endeavour not to drop behind that position - but when possible make up a place or two when the opportunity arises. If the race is being run in circuits,watch the first time round,gleaning knowledge where it is possible to make up ground - as on an easy stretch of the course - or the best method and spot to negotiate an obstacle,and take full advantage of the knowledge gained next time round. At ditches,a quick decision is necessary as to whether it is more profitable to jump or stride through. To jump often requires more energy than to stride or run through,and there is the additional risk when jumping,unless one is quite sure of the landing,that injury may result. Over the last mile or so,the restraint which the runner has been exercising can profitably be lifted,with the knowledge that one?s goal will be achieved at the end of that distance - and more effort should be expended to ensure that one?s absolute best is produced by the end of the journey.

Hill climbing requires care and judgement -usually runners fail to adapt their pace suitably to the increased energy required. The stride should be shortened and the head and body brought slightly forward.Just as it is possible to attempt the hill climb at too fast a pace and loss of position results,so places can be lost when the hill crest is reached by the slowness of the runner to respond to the easier going. This is very noticeable in our large championships - it may be the result of bad judgement in taking the climb,but more often it is the result of the runner?s failure to quickly take advantage of the relief the easier going presents..It is my definite opinion,it is better for the athlete and for athletics in general for restraint to be exercised to avoid running all out to a state of collapse. Generally speaking,the athlete will derive more benefit from the sport and be able to continue active athletics for a much longer period.It is very surprising when one reflects how very few of our first class athletes show signs of acute distress.

It is essential if full benefit is to be derived from the run to always make a practice before entering the dressing room to let respiration return to normal. I am afraid it is a very common error made by runners to also race right up to the dressing room door,and then with distressed breathing enter the room,where the atmosphere is often very far from pure.

Reference has already been made to the runner who,during training runs,insists on racing for each obstacle. There is also another class of runner who comes under the term of pack spoiler.I refer to the runner who will not use common sense to grade himself into the right pace pack. A runner who regularly hangs behind when he is supposed to form a unit of a pack is doing quite as much to spoil the pleasure of others,as the runner who schemes to gain an advantage over the pack leader. If these runners would endeavour to remain in the centre of their pack,the one would not feel so distressed,while the other would be helping considerably to make the run enjoyable;and thus be doing a real service to the Team Spriit.

Those responsible for the laying of the trail should always make a decision as to their direction before starting to lay the paper in any field to ensure a straight line course from entrance to exit.

On the question of diet,much can be said for and against various forms of food,and I feel convinced personal experience is here again necessary,rather than putting forward definite bill of fare. A sound general principle can however be adopted of a good varied diet with the necessary precaution of tactful choice on the day of the race.The only items of general food I found it advisable to avoid being pork and ,to a certain extent, pastry.

If a race is to take place in the afternoon,all the necessary liquid should be taken before 11am or better still at breakfast time. Breakfast should be quite a substantial meal but lunch should consist of the food experience has told the athlete he can most easily digest.

In training runs and races,warm clothing is essential,with long sleeves reaching right down to the hands,and, if the weather is keen, woollen gloves may be worn with advantage. Tight belts should be avoided for distance runnng especially as the discomforture experiencd detracts concentration on progress,and becomes a source of worry to the runner in addition to laboured breathing resulting from the pressure.

Midweek runs are necessary to keep in trim and attain fitness during the early stages of the season but should be taken with care.When bordering on fitness,the distance should be reduced,and athletes of light build and juniors could discontinue them altogether.

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