Cross Country Running
At first glance, cross-country running seems simple: the fastest runner wins, but that's often downplaying the incredible training and effort that goes into dominating the course. It takes some pretty intense and diligent practice to get where those winners are, so it's important to know the very basics. Take CoachUp's handy guide to cross country with you if you're looking to get into the sport, learn a little bit more, or dominate your next race!
Unlike a track meet or your neighborhood 5k, cross country is run over a variety of different terrains. While an official track is required to meet certain proportions, all cross-country courses are unique, each with their own signature elements. There is no limit to how hilly, flat, or muddy a cross country course can be, which makes each race unique and challenging in its own way. If you're unfamiliar with running off-road, try to incorporate some trail running into your training schedule to get your body used to changes in footing. Courses also vary by distance. At the high school level, the standard distance is 5k, approximately 3.1 miles, but at the collegiate level, the distance is increased to 8k or 10k for men and 5k or 6k for women.
For team competition, cross-country is scored like golf -- the lowest score wins! A team’s score is compiled by adding up the places of its five fastest runners. Therefore, the best score a team can achieve is fifteen, one point award to first, two to second, and so on -- this is known as a sweep. In addition to its five fastest finishers, a team’s sixth and seventh finishers can also contribute to their team’s success by finishing ahead of runners on other teams, thereby causing other team's runners to score higher.
Cross country races can be a messy affair -- less than ideal terrain, crowded courses, and high stakes can often lead to pushing, shoving, and falling. At no point in the race is this truer than at the start, when packs of runners take off from the same starting line and jockey for position. Since nobody wants to be stuck in the back and forced to play catch-up the entire race, getting a good start is important. Although, there is no silver-bullet solution to a good start, one key point to remember is to be aggressive and not get intimidated. Start fast to get out in front, then find your pace. Your adrenaline will allow you to run a little faster at the beginning without tiring yourself out too early. But be careful...
Like all distance races, the optimal cross-country race is ran at an even pace for the most part. For this reason, it's usually not a good idea to start off a race much faster than you intend to run its entirety. It's common for first-time runners to let their nerves get the best of them and start sprinting from the gun, but remember, it’s a long race! Pace yourself and save that pent up energy for the end of the race when you can leave it all out there.
Contrary to popular belief, cross country is a team sport, one player can't win a meet by himself! Running a race alongside teammates of a similar skill level, especially for beginners, is a great way to pace yourself, so that you don’t start the race too quickly or too slowly. Additionally, running with a teammate can help to give you that extra boost of motivation when it counts.
An experienced runner knows that the finish of a race is more than just the last few meters. At a competitive level, runners can begin to push the pace for their finish with more than a mile to go. In order to have the best finish you can, relax your face, maintain proper form, and push as hard as you can until you’ve fully crossed the finish line.
(Related: Read about you should generally approach races here.)
Cross country can be an incredibly frustrating, yet rewarding sport all at once. It takes a serious dedication your training, efforts, and desire in order to make a serious push for that first place finish. Unlike some other sports, you can't simply walk out and dominate the competition without long practices under your belt. So, make sure you know what you're getting yourself into before hopping on a course with sky-high expectations as a beginner.
However, if you're still struggling with any facet of your cross country game, consider booking one of CoachUp's private trainers to help you out. Our intelligent, expert-level squad will help you carve out your niche on the course, making it far easier for you to find success in the future. What are you waiting for?