Cross country is a popular sport for both high school and collegiate runners.
Although often lumped into the same category as track and field simply because
both sports involve running, cross country is actually a sport which is
significantly different from
track and field. While track and field is largely
an individual sport, cross country is more a team sport. Additionally, the
distances and terrain make the sport somewhat unique. This article will provide
some information on the sport of cross country running to give the reader a
greater appreciation of the sport. The article will also feature some basic
training information which is helpful for those who participate in cross country
running or even those who participate in organized road races.
The distances associated with cross country running are usually significantly
longer than the majority of running events associated with track and field.
Distance of 5K and 10K, which are equal to 3.1 miles and 6.2 miles respectively,
are two of the most common distances offered at a cross country meet. There may
be alternative distances offered for freshman or in a situation where it is not
possible to devise a course of the standard length in the meet location.
However, these situations are rare and most meets feature one or both of the two
standard distances. The longer 10K races are usually for men who are
upperclassmen while women and underclassmen men usually participate in 5K races.
The terrain of cross country also makes the sport much different from track and
field. While track and field events typically take place on a rubberized track
of 400 meters, cross country meets typically take place on trails through wooded
areas. This makes cross country running much less of an ideal spectator sport
but also makes the course significantly more interesting for the runner.
Traversing a 5K or 10K course on trails through wooded areas is much more
exciting and entertaining than it would be to complete the same distance on a
track. Additionally, the frequent turns the runner would have to make during the
course of completing the race on a track would be very difficult on the ankles
The terrain of a cross country course also presents a number of different
opportunities for trying different strategies. Most cross country courses not
only contain a variety of surfaces such as grass, dirt gravel and sand but also
include a profile which may include one or more substantial hills on the course.
Cross country runners who are aware of the type of surfaces they can expect to
encounter as well as the complexity of the hills on the course can develop a
strategy ahead of time for navigating these difficult sections of the course
without sacrificing time.
One of the other interesting aspects of cross country running is the team
concept associated with the sport. Unlike track and field which even though a
team winner may be declared at the conclusion of the meet in a manner similar to
the medal count used at the Olympics, it is much less team oriented. However, in
the sport of cross country the primary focus is on the placement of the team.
Most cross country races allow each team to enter seven or more members in the
race but typically only the top five finishers contribute to the overall team
score. The overall team score for the cross country meet is determined by
tallying the placements of the top five finishers from each team. Then the team
with the lowest accumulated total is declared the winner. Based on this concept
it is easy to see that one school may have the top overall finishers but if
their next four finishers finish towards the bottom of the pack, the team has
little chance of winning the meet. Conversely a team may not have a finisher in
the top three overall but all five of their top finishes may be bunched together
closely toward the top of the pack making it possible for this team to be
declared the overall winner despite not having a finisher in the top three.
Training for cross country running can be a quite lengthy and difficult process.
One of the most obvious components of training for competition in cross country
meets is distance training. These runners need to be running high amounts of
mileage each week to keep themselves in physical shape to tackle challenging
courses each week. Hill training is also a critical element of cross country
training. This is because the majority of cross country course contain one or
more substantial hills. Some courses may be hillier than others but runners
should be aware that each course will likely have some form of a hill for the
competitors to navigate. One of the more surprising elements of cross country
training is speed work. This will likely surprise many who assume speed work is
only for runners who compete in shorter distance events. However, the high
intensity training of sprint work can actually help a cross country runner to
improve his overall performance by enabling the runner to improve his strength.
Additionally, speed training is necessary for situations in which the cross
country runner is attempting to out sprint an opponent at the end of the race.
The finish lines on cross country courses are usually preceded by lengthy flat
sections making it ideal for finishers to challenge each other for placement at
the very end of the race.
The video clip above is from my DVD about running stetches and other running related information. Click on the DVD case below to find out more.