Can The Mid-Lancs Cross-Country League Be Improved?
In early March 2008 I wrote the article below following the end of the 2007/8 Mid-Lancs cross-country season. In it I attempted to highlight some potential improvements to the league structure, with particular regard to the number of fixtures and team scoring. Within a few days I had received seven written comments that I have summarised below at the end of my own piece. Thank you to everyone who commented; I'm sure you have provided even more food for thought. TC. Go directly to the comments
I have been running in, or watching, the Mid-Lancs Cross-Country League for over a quarter of a century and can say, from general observation, that it is amongst the best organised and attended around. The variety of courses featured ensures something for everyone who takes part and the league officials and meeting organisers are tireless workers in support of a branch of our sport that I sometimes feel is undervalued by the mainstream running community.
I recently saw a thread on an athletics Message Board that suggested the quality of the Mid-Lancs League was not the same as it was in the days of such luminaries as Dave Lewis (Rossendale) and Steve Tunstall (Preston Harriers). Older readers will recall them finishing first and second in the National XC championships in 1989. Another contributor went on to point out that the 2007/8 season had featured at least one fell running champion and the UK’s third ranked male 10000m runner of 2007. The following National XC high placers also took part:
3rd U13 Girl; 14th U15 Girl; 1st, 6th and 7th U17 Women; 2nd, 7th and 18th Senior Women.
The 6th senior man from the Northern XC championships also competed as a guest. Not much wrong with the quality there.
So why do I feel uneasy about certain aspects of the league? Firstly I think there are too many fixtures. A study of the cross-country leagues featured in Athletics Weekly shows that most stage 3-5 races and very few have six. When I first took part the Mid-Lancs had six races but the main difference was that there were far fewer winter road races back then and clashes were comparatively rare. Subsequently the number of fixtures was reduced to five and there did not seem to be any detrimental effect on the league. Nowadays clashes with road races are much more common and I am sure this affects the attendance at cross-country. The worst clash is the Liverpool XC (UKA Challenge) and the Wesham 10k which take place on the same day. Having six fixtures is even more onerous on young athletes as they often have schools competitions as well as the league and championship races.
My other complaint is the team scoring system. When there were 5 races the best 4 scores counted. When the sixth fixture was reintroduced this remained at four, thus discarding up to 33% of a team’s scores. How many leagues in this, or any other sport, use such a system? Surely the least that should have happened was that the number of counting scores should have increased to five. There has been more than one example of teams completing all six fixtures only to be beaten (or relegated/denied promotion) by a team with only four scores. One instance in the 2007/8 season involves our senior women’s B Team who have completed six fixtures and have finished third on countback behind two teams who each completed only four races.
My solutions are simple. Firstly, reduce the number of fixtures to five, dropping the UKA Challenge race in Liverpool. Since it was moved back from December to November it has clashed with the Wesham 10k which has had a long established late November date in the racing calendar. The Liverpool race tends to skew the Mid-Lancs results and is inconvenient for junior men who tend to compete in their own race rather than with the seniors as in a normal league race. Our race is shoe-horned into the fixture that just does not fit the Mid-Lancs profile. The start times are different making it possible for men, should they desire, to hot-foot it from Wesham to Sefton Park to do both races. However this is not an option for women as their Liverpool race starts too early.
Runners would be free to run in either the Wesham or Liverpool race as they wished.
Secondly, count the scores from ALL fixtures. All teams would then finish with a score and it would be up to the clubs to ensure a turnout and the unfairness of discarding scores would disappear.
Finally, I would reintroduce a December fixture. For some reason it seems to be a no-go area at present creating an unnaturally long break and means three races in January – league, county and regional championships. The league would then have three fixtures before Christmas and two in February/March with championships more easily accommodated.
These suggestions are made with improvement of what is already a good league in mind. I would welcome any responses, either directly mailto:email@example.com or via the BWFAC Message Board.
Having six races does seem excessive, and as a roadrunner first and foremost, I would always do the Wesham 10k ahead of a XC event, so why not take the clash away?
* * * * *
Personally I prefer the country to the road. We have some excellent cross-country routes in Lancs which provide solid tests of an athlete’s strength. In my opinion there are already too many road options. What about dropping the road races!?
If I were to improve the Mid-Lancs league I would possibly drop Blackburn occasionally since 2 visits per season every year plus the schools is a bit much perhaps. Lancaster needs looking at, particularly the route (or roots!) through the trees at the top.
* * * * *
I concur that the organisation of the Mid-Lancs League is superb. It has so much to commend it - in terms of a "Sport for All" concept - that I am amazed there is not more media and Government interest. Taking care of so many young people - and all that involves - is something the organisers should be particularly proud of.
As regards the competitive element, I can't really comment on whether 5 or 6 races is more sensible but I certainly agree with your remarks about the Liverpool race. It sticks out like a sore thumb and it is especially unhelpful that the conditions of racing are different than the other races. Also, for at least three clubs, it is very difficult to field teams when there is a clash of fixtures.
I don't agree that all races should count. I think you runners should be allowed to drop one race - so it should be 5 from 6 or 4 from 5.
Finally, I also agree that there should be a race in December. The long break makes little sense to me. I guess, as we've discussed, it might have something to do with Christmas but I am not sure that explanation holds up especially if there was a race early in December. Nevertheless, overall this remains a terrific event.
* * * * *
I totally agree with your Mid-Lancs posting - 6 is too many especially if only 4 count.
Why not move the fixture from Jan to Dec? Also, get rid of the Liverpool fixture as it does mess the results up in that some people compete for clubs that are in Mid-Lancs yet they are only competing as they are doing the UKA challenge.
* * * * *
found your thoughts very interesting; please remember on the whole I speak for
the younger elements of the club.
The current system does work and leads to some exciting competition but .....
I agree about the UKA Challenge, we have a number of runners who compete reasonably well throughout the year but are worried about the step up and therefore choose not to participate in this event, it does skew the results (although at the younger ages this quite often benefits us).
The inclusion of all of the remaining 5 races towards the scoring for the league would be excellent because it would force clubs to be consistent and attend all of the 5 events (in theory a team could win the league by only attending 4 but this would be difficult). The countback system should also be adjusted to look at consistency not best performances. I am unsure what such a change would mean to us in relation to transposing this seasons results and seeing what differences that makes to the final results but I do think it would be a fairer system across the board.
* * * * *
I agree with your comments. We shouldn't have such a large gap in the calendar. I do like the Liverpool race but there's nothing to stop me and others running it should we wish. I think the scoring suggestion would maximise turnout. A general observation of my own is that some of the courses are too flat. I would like some tougher hillier courses. If we are all to get the benefits of XC, i.e. improved strength and endurance, we should have tougher courses otherwise, if the weather is on our side, some of them will be very similar to running flat road races.
* * * * *
As you know I support your suggestions regarding the Mid-Lancs League following our discussion. It really annoys me when Blackpool Wyre and Fylde turn out a full squad of women on each of the races in the league only to have our B team beaten by another club who only choose to race in four. Having five races with all five counting would show the strength and depth of a running club. I also think that it would be easier to persuade athletes to turn out if they knew each race were to count.
I, like you, think the Liverpool UKA fixture should be dropped. It always clashes with Wesham 10K which causes no end of problems for the team captains trying to get athletes to turn out at Liverpool instead of a 10K on their doorstep.
* * * * *
Back to Home Page
Back to News & Views Page
Top of Page