I love cross country. The training, the practices, the races all make for a wonderful experience. If you are not familiar with the sport of cross country, you have to see a race to fully understand what it is. Imagine your favorite sport. Now invite all the best teams and all the stars to play on the same pitch at the same time. This is what a cross country championship looks like.
Let’s start with what a cross country race is. The distance of a cross country race varies from high school to high school, but it is generally between 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) and 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). All the runners start at the same time. The first rider to finish wins.
Knowing which team wins is also pretty straightforward. Most team races allow seven to twelve riders on each team. The first five finishers of each team count towards your team points. The team with the lowest total points wins. In a perfect race, the team would finish 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. This would give the team a total of 15 points. Races can have only two teams competing against each other, or for very large invitations, more than 50 teams can all race at the same time.
Another reason that cross country is so unique is that all runners compete at the same time. Imagine taking all the best track racers and letting them race against each other. This is what happens. Many high school and college cross country teams have great distance and middle distance runners who run together. The people from the 400 meters to the individuals running the 2 miles on the track will form a high school team. In college, it is usually the 1 mile and longer track runners who make up the cross country team.
Training for sports is also unique. Often, many of your training runs are on trails or in hilly terrain. I was able to run on so many beautiful state park trails thanks to cross country. To improve yourself, you need to gradually increase the amount you run. This way you avoid injury, but you get your stamina levels to incredible levels after months of training.
Finally comes the championship racing season. At the end of the season there are two big races. First comes the qualifying race for the championship. In this race, only a few selected teams and the top few finishers qualify for the championship race. For the last race of the season, all the best individuals and teams come together. It’s like the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl brought together in one event. As a competitor, you can take on the best of the best. As a spectator you can see a great individual race and watch the teams compete against each other in the middle of the peloton.
In the fall, check where your local high school team runs or where the local college has their home. Seeing a race in person is a unique experience. If you’re not sure if you want to join your high school team, I guarantee you won’t regret it. Running cross-country brings the best in people. There is something about working together towards a common goal that will last you a lifetime.