Cross Country vs Track Running: A Detailed Comparison

cross country vs track

Most people consider running as one of the purest forms of exercise that offer plenty of health benefits without special equipment.

In athletics sport, it involves various events, but cross country running and track running are two of the most popular.

For most people, they consider these two sports as one but with different names that require the athlete to run to win the competition.

Professional athletes, though, know better and understand that there are specific differences between cross country vs track running.

To avoid confusion and for you to know which is better for you, let’s learn more about these two types of running events.

History of Cross Country and Track Running

Track and field, in general, were established earlier than cross country, even if it was prohibited and had to be promoted again.

However, the cross country race became popular first compared to track running though both are well-loved and played by most athletes.

Here’s a short overview of each of their rich history:

Cross Country Running

Officially, cross country running competitions began in 1837 by some English schools with a national championship organized on December 7, 1867, in London.

This first cross country championship was a non-exclusive event where anyone is allowed to join and compete.

The problem was since it was the first organized event, many errors caused misfortunes to a lot of participants like getting lost in the open course due to lack of markings.

Also, the competition began at five in the afternoon, adding to the difficulty of the players navigating the three and a half miles of muddy and hilly terrain.

Track Running

Track running together with other field activities was first associated with religious events exclusive for men. It was considered one of the oldest types of sports in history.

From 776 BC, these popular events lasted for 11 centuries until the Christian emperor banned the games in 394 AD.

England started to develop the sport as a new event in the 19th century, where English students meet to push and promote the game.

It was in 1849 when the Royal Military Academy arranged the first modern track and field competition.

It was only in the 1860s, though, when it became popular, and the new Amateur Athletic Club organized the first English championships for men.

The sport became well-known in the USA after the New York Athletic Club came into existence in 1868.

The game of track-and-field became an international sport in 1896 during the first Olympic Games in modern times.

The International Athletic Amateur Federation, established in 1913, is represented by participants from 16 countries.

It was tasked to create general guidelines for the sport and other official duties.

Female runners are not heard of until delegates from six countries decided to form an athletic federation exclusive to women in 1921.

They officially joined the International Athletic Amateur Federation in 1936.

Cross Country Running

Overview of the Two Sports

The general information about these two sports based on athletes and sports advocates’ points of view will allow us to understand the games’ nature better.

Cross Country

The sport of cross country running is a long-distance race held over open fields in winter or autumn months.

Competitors in this sport should have a fit body, a sound mind, and excellent stamina to endure the competition’s challenges.

Most athletes say that cross country training is more intense and takes a lot longer to excel.

Track Running

Track running is more identified as a speed competition where runners need to compete as individual players and finish a specified distance on a flat surface.

An individual player can compete in multiple races with varying distances and categories on the same day.

Training for this sport is more focused on the player’s speed and stamina since the race track does not change.

Cross Country vs Track Running

Now that you have a clear understanding of the two sports, you might already have an idea of which one to choose.

That said, here are their key differences and our recommendations for each category.

This information will help you decide better or ensure you’re really choosing the right one.


The courses for each race are physically different from one another, which helps determine the kind of training the players need.

Cross Country

A cross country race course is set up in natural surroundings with uneven and challenging landscapes, such as grass, dirt, mud, or snow.

It offers an element of surprise as the course structure regularly changes every year, depending on the location and the season.


Track running competitions are always done on flat surfaces, whether outdoors or indoors.

The design of the race track remains the same in whatever season the competition is scheduled.

Our Recommendation

In this category, we believe that track running courses are better than cross country terrains since the players know what to expect on the competition day.

cross country vs track

Scoring System

The scoring system for each competition has a lot of differences since these sports have a very different set of rules.

Cross Country

Cross country runners compete as a team composed of four to five members each.

Each player receives a point based on what position they get on the finish line.

These individual scores are then added to determine each team’s total points, and the group with the lowest score wins the competition.

The team with less than the required number of players will not qualify in the competition.


In track running competitions, each players’ score is recorded based on how fast they have completed a specific distance.

The player with the fastest recorded time in completing the race is the winner for that particular distance.

Our Recommendation

Technically, all runners start as an individual player before joining a team and competing as a group.

For this category, we consider track as the best choice for the sole reason that a player needs training, whether they are competing as part of a team or not.



Each sport showcases different events and a completely different set of guidelines.

Cross Country

A cross country event is a one-time race per scheduled competition and usually played as a team.

It generally takes a whole year to prepare for a single event, which typically takes place every winter or fall.


Track running consists of different events with various distances that can be played by a single runner.

Contestants from one team are still considered as an individual competitor and will win as such.

Our Recommendation

We will choose track racing for this category just because individual achievements make a lot of difference to an athlete’s self-esteem.

Final Recount

We have chosen track running in three of the four points of comparison that we have listed above.

That is because this sport is more focused on the individual player’s progress and development. An excellent player is an advantage to the team’s success.

Pros and Cons

Cross Country Running


  • Develops strength and endurance
  • Trains the mind to focus
  • Fixed race distance


  • Needs longer training
  • Unpredictable racecourse

Track Running


  • Can be played indoors
  • Varied distances
  • Several events in a year


  • Hard to monitor distance
  • One won’t sense the team’s closeness on events


Cross country and track running are both more than just jogging or sprinting, but are two different sports in many aspects.

For newbies, we would highly suggest track running since the cross country race is more intense.

Still, choosing between cross country vs track really depends on your preference.

Remember though that whether you want to train and compete for both or excel in one only, what to wear in each sport, especially your footwear, is vital for your comfort and safety.

8 thoughts on “Cross Country vs Track Running: A Detailed Comparison”

  1. I’ve always known the difference between track and cross country running. This post just reinforces everything I know about it. Think of it this way. The track is car racing on asphalt, and cross country is off-road car racing. Similar sport but many differences in the technique and strategy behind the sport.

    • Hello, Casonn, and thank you.

      Well, it is not everybody that knows it. And the idea with this article was to help the readers and fans of this site get detailed information about it.

      Your pictured idea gives a small hint to there is much more to have in mind!

      Don’t hesitate to contact me if I can help you with anything else or if you have any questions.

  2. I am happy you can tell me to first start with the less intense one here instead of just your head on for the one that will take all my power away. I am very happy to be able to read this post you have written here, and I am going to start taking some classes on the track faces first, and from there, we will see where it goes. Thanks again for the explanation on the two

    • Hello, Jay, and thank you.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Great to hear about your benefit of the article too.

      Don’t hesitate to contact me if I can help you with anything else or if you have any questions.

  3. Hello there!

    That guide was indeed a guide to clear out of ignorance when it comes to running. I’ve never realized there was a difference between those two mentioned types of running. Thus, now I am out of that ignorance, and a lot of people reading this too will attest to it, the nature of both games is now well understood.

    Thanks for that knowledge.

    • Hello, Kingsking, and thank you.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Great to hear about your benefit of the article too.

      Don’t hesitate to contact me if I can help you with anything else or if you have any questions.

  4. Wow. I never knew what the real difference between cross country and track running. I have never been a runner (even though I have tried especially in high school), but I have definitely learned a lot thanks to your article. I also enjoyed learning about the history behind it. Very interesting. Thank you for writing this article 😊

    • Hello, Denise, and thank you.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Great to hear about your benefit of the article too.

      Don’t hesitate to contact me if I can help you with anything else or if you have any questions.


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