Cross country running is no easy jog in the park—you need to ready for anything in your path.
Rocks, roots, steep inclines, streams, and adverse weather can all be challenging but fun “complications.”
Training properly for a cross country event will give you the endurance, agility, and strength needed to reach your full performance potential.
In today’s article, I’ll spill the beans on cross country running and why so many enjoy it.
I’m also sharing a few tips on how to get started with cross country running and how to make the most out of it.
Let’s lace up and dig in.
What is Cross Country Running?
Also known as XC running, cross country running is a form of racing that takes place in open-air, natural environments and seldom run along paths or roads.
From obstacle to jump over, steep hills, and slippery muddy descent, cross country running offers a broad range of challenges that will literally keep every runner on their feet.
Cross-country events take place in all sorts of weather conditions, which can drastically impact performance.
These include rain, snow, wind, ice, hail as well as heatwaves. In fact, cross-country events are seldom canceled because of adverse and bad weather.
XC running races are held during the fall or winter months, and many runners, recreational and elite alike, use the sport as means for improving endurance and staying fit throughout the cold months.
The Distance Of Xc Running Events
Just like other races, XC running varies in distance and will typically depend on the age group, but typically the distances from 4km to 12km.
Some of the most popular XC running events include:
The annual World Cross Country Championships
- NCAA Cross Country
- Cross Country Championships
- The English National Cross-Country Championships
Cross country events trace their history to the 19th century in the form of an English game called “hard and bounds” or “the paper chase.”
English schools began holding competitions in cross country running as far back as 1837, then on the 7th December 1867, the national championship was held for the first time on Wimbledon Common in south-west London, then the first international one took place in 1903 at Hamilton Park Racecourse in Scotland.
Not long thereafter, cross country running made its way to the Olympic Games in 1912, becoming a popular event for the games.
But the sports didn’t fare well in the Olympics.
A Disaster of Olympic Proportions
At the 1924 Paris Olympics, a devastating heatwave during the race resulted in only 15 of the 38 participants reaching the finish line.
Eight of those ended up needing serious medical help.
Jose Andia and Edvin Wide were both reported dead (but the reports of their demise were actually exaggerated) while the medics spent hours trying to locate the participants who fainted along the course.
In fact, one of the competitors started to run tight circles after reaching the stadium until he knocked himself unconscious while another collapsed a few meters from the finish line.
Although the fatality reports were unfounded, the public was so horrified at the conditions of the race that Olympic officials ruled to ban cross country running races from future games. Things may change in the upcoming Olympic event but fingers “crossed.”
For more on the history of cross country running, check the following articles:
- The Origins of Cross Country
- Cross country running
- A Brief History on Cross Country Running
- A Brief History of Cross Country
Additional Resource – Here’s how many miles should a beginner run
When Is Cross Country Season?
Cross country running races normally take place during the autumn and winter season, usually held from early October up until February and early March.
X-C running is no joke. In fact, it’s one of the most challenging events out there.
The sport isn’t just about the competition between you and other runners. You also need to overcome mother nature as you make your way through slippery roads, steep hills, technical terrains, and everything in between.
All of these challenges conspire to constantly disrupt your rhythm and throw you off your footing much more than your typical race on a flat, predictable surface.
That’s why you’ll need specific cross-training training to make it through over the variety of surfaces unscathed.
Beginner Cross Country Running Tips
Now that you know a thing or two about XC running, the question is, how do you actually train for one?
Let’s find out.
How Train For Cross Country Running
As previously explained, typical XC running events range from 4 to 12 kilometers.
All these distances are primarily aerobic, meaning if you go off the gate too fast, you’ll run yourself into the ground in the latter portions of the race. Few things are as bad as being passed by runner after the next over the last part of a cross country event.
That’s why to run your cross country race, make sure you’ve enough endurance to run well over a distance of 6.2 miles. This is a key factor in cross-country success.
Additional Reading – Here’s the full guide to obstacle race course training.
One of the most challenging aspects of cross country running is how much up and down is involved in the race.
Although the typical XC running events aren’t long, the constant up and down is involved in the race can be tricky.
That’s why simulating these conditions before the race will better prepare your body and mind for the event.
How? Quite simple –train on hills. Doing hill work—either hill sprints or uphill endurance running—is one of the best ways to get your body used to the changing pace of an XC running event.
Even if you hate hills, incline training is key to building country running specific speed, strength, and endurance.
Here’s a sample workout to try out.
Locate a hill of no more than 400 to 600 meters in length, preferably on a softer surface off the asphalt.
Next, following a dynamic warm-up on a flat surface, run the uphill portion at a sustainable yet challenging effort, focusing on being fast and efficient, Then jog down for recovery.
Repeat for a minimum of 6 to 8 reps, depending on your fitness level and weekly mileage, then finish with a 10-minute slow jog.
For more on-hill training for runners, check my guide here.
You can also work on improving your form by doing agility ladder drills.
Your Running Shoes
To properly train for and run a cross-country race, make sure you have proper footwear.
Picking the proper pair is key to reduce your injury risk while subsequently improving your performance.
Runners who compete in X-C races usually used spiked shoes. These shoes are specifically designed to offer traction and grip on all sorts of surfaces and terrains.
What’s even better?
Get yourself a pair of proper X-C running shoes. These are designed to be more robust and versatile than track spikes and usually have better grip and traction.
I’d recommend visiting the nearest running store to get the needed shoes. You can also check out online shopping websites that also offer great cross-country running shoes.
Additional resource – How to choose running gloves
Cross Country Running Tips For For Beginners – Conclusion
Giving cross country running isn’t that hard. All you need is the right mindset, a reliable training plan, and the right gear. The rest is just details.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.
Keep training strong.