Rhydian Cowley: An Enjoyable Cross Country Running Season XCR’14

Rhydian Cowley in action 1

With no walk events on at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, my winter this year was looking to be much quieter than previous years, with no reason to spend it chasing summer and races around the world. A welcome upside to this was that I had an opportunity to compete in more XCR competitions than in years gone by.

While competing overseas against the best in the world is great fun, there is nothing quite like grass-roots athletics, and although I ply my trade for Australia as a racewalker, I love running just as much, and will take any chance I can get to race, be it walking or running, as an alternative to doing a training session by myself. The chance to socialise and make friends with people of all ages who are competing because they love their sport is also great, and there’s something to be said for Glenhuntly’s post-race afternoon/morning tea as well.

I know that won’t be competing on the world stage forever, but I’d hope that when the time comes, my body will still be in good enough shape for me to keep competing in the same way that we have seen the likes of Chris Wardlaw, Len Johnson and Sonia O’Sullivan doing this season, and that I’m still enjoying my sport

Although this winter was looking quiet on the international front, that didn’t stop me missing the first round at Jells Park by being in China competing in the Racewalking World Cup. However, I was able to return in time to attend round 2 at Lardner Park and test out my little practised fence jumping skills. The course was a challenging one, and although I was well placed early in the race, my lack of running showed as I fell back to 8th place at the finish. I was glad to find out later that the Division One team had managed to sneak a 2nd place, improving greatly from our first round’s 9th place.

The feeling of ‘running out of legs’ towards the end of races was to be a familiar one throughout the season, as my base fitness only got me so far before my body reminded me of its limitations.  Despite that, I managed to finish in the top 20 in all of the XCR14 races I competed at, with my best races being Lardner Park, Brimank Park (9th) and the Sandown Relays (4th in the first leg, 6th fastest time on day), and added Lake Wendouree in Ballarat to the list of courses that I’ve run at.

Rhydian Cowley in action Ballarat race (left) and Albert Park race (right)

Although there were some days that I felt I didn’t perform that well, I felt it was important to remember to put my runs in perspective. What might not seem good for me is still quite a good performance to others, and given that I train for walking, not running, I should probably not expect too much of myself – sometimes it is hard to fight those competitive instincts that makes one hate losing with a realistic appraisal of where one is at. At the same time, it is important not to let good performances inflate your expectations too much, even if it means you get TV and Chris Wardlaw telling you to  “drop the novelty event and focus on running”. And on the bright side, it’s not every race where you get to overtake Box Hill’s Steve Kelly twice in one race thanks to a nature stop and his own tough day in the office.

Athletics is often an individual sport, but the team aspect of the cross country season makes it more enjoyable beyond the up and down of individual performances. It was exciting to be a part of Glenhuntly’s fight for podium finishes in Division 1, especially when we were able to field teams strengthened by the likes of Toby Rayner, the seemingly ageless Craig Semple, and Josh Papanikolaou, because it meant that I was a part of something bigger than just my own performance.

Perhaps more exciting than being on a team with proven top performers was seeing the emergence of some asked to step up in relays. Ben Kelly’s runs in the Sandown and Tan relays were very impressive, and Beau Lang showed he was good enough for Division 1 a number of times as well. Relays often give the younger guys like Ben a chance to prove themselves, and they rarely disappoint. Since I’m often focused on my own performance while I’m running, the chance to watch others perform is another thing I like about the relays during the cross country season.

All up, 2014 was a very enjoyable XCR season for me. Although I largely planned it to be a part of my base training load in preparation for Beijing 2015 and Rio 2016, the opportunity to race with friends, and make new ones, made it one of the best and most fun ways to improve my fitness over the winter. I was extremely glad to be able to compete in so much of the season this year, and I’m honoured to have won the Outstanding Senior Team Person award for this season as a result of that.

Although it may be a while before I’m again able to race almost the entire XCR season, I hope that my schedule in coming years allows me to at least make regular appearances in the baby blue.