What Is Cross Country Running and How to Prepare for It

what is cross country running

What is cross country running, and why do a lot of runners and athletes participate in this type of race?

If you love watching marathons and races, you’ve probably seen a unique type of race.

The kind of race where the participants are running on grass, muddy fields, or rocky surfaces. That is known as cross country or cross country running.

If you are an aspiring runner or an athlete, cross country is one of the best ways to improve your overall performance.

It is different from and more arduous than a regular marathon.

What Is Cross Country Running?

Cross country is a famous sport that many aspiring runners and athletes participate in, especially those who want to develop their endurance.

Like many other races, the person or the team who reaches the finish line wins the competition.

The difference is that cross country races are more than just running fast.

Since it is a type of long-distance running, you need to run the longest and master the terrain.

Still, cross country is like a marathon race on open-air courses, so you need to use your feet and wit to win.

The Brief History

Cross country running started in England during the early 19th century.

It was known as “the paper chase” because a group of runners would run out first and drop pieces of paper.

The papers are like a trail so that the next group of runners that would chase after them can track them easily and quickly.

It was also the explanation as to why it was known as the “hare and hounds” game.

The sports gained recognition after English schools in 1837 started organizing races to let teams of athletes compete.

The first cross country race was called Crick Run and held at the Rugby School.

Since formal races started appearing one after the other, the English National Cross Country Championship was established to handle the rules and layout the routes.

On December 7, 1967, the first championship race was held at Wimbledon Common.

However, it was unsuccessful because of multiple issues like unclear routes and terrains that were unsuitable for running.

With its popularity, though, it was included in the Summer Olympics. The first race happened in 1912, followed by 1920 and 1924.

Unfortunately, right after that, it was removed from the Summer Olympics because of multiple issues regarding the safety of the runners.

The hot and humid weather was not favorable for the runners, and they perceived that it is only an autumn and winter sport.

Participating in Cross Country Running

The Mechanics

Cross country running is not only a sport made for highschool, college, or professional runners.

If you want to stay fit and compete at the same time, you can sign up for local events in your area and participate.

It is more like a simple marathon race, but it is more challenging.

Most of the cross country competitions are using a point system.

Runners would race individually, and they will earn points for their team based on their position when they reach the finish line.

The first placer gets one point, the second placer gets two points, and so on.

The team that would record the lower number of points will be the ultimate winner.

There are also competitions where only the top five runners on the team will get a score.

That said, even if the other runners won’t be included in the point system, they can still help with strategy by disrupting other competitors, displacing the other runners, and more.

The Benefits

Cross country running is extremely difficult, and not everyone crosses the finish line.

Some runners would give up in the middle because they ran out of gas, while others would fail to finish because of injuries, damaged shoes, and more.

There are many reasons not to participate in this type of competition, but there are benefits that encourage athletes and runners to join.

Here are some of the known benefits of participating in cross country running events:

  • Improves Your Lung Capacity

The usage of your lungs will increase when you are running in cross country competitions.

It will improve their capacity in the process.

It would also help improve health issues like asthma, meditation techniques, and idle breathing.

  • Weight Loss

If you are not trying to compete and just want to join to lose weight, cross country running is a great way to shed those excess pounds.

Even if you don’t do other weight loss programs and just focus on cross country running regularly, you can already see a big difference in your weight.

  • Perfect Alternative for Workout

If you think that staying inside the gym for hours is too boring, cross country running can be a more fun alternative.

When you are running, you use every muscle in your body.

If you are running on different terrains, you can fully use all of the muscles and train them.

  • Stress Reduction

If you focus on the fun and excitement of cross country running, it would reduce stress significantly.

If you built up a lot of stress during the week, cross country running during the weekend would help release it.

It’s a different story when you are competing since losing might bring more stress to you, especially if you spent so much time training and you still lost in the end.

  • Improve Your Endurance

Compared to a regular marathon race, cross country would take up more energy from you.

If you can run for about 700 meters in one go in a regular marathon race, the same energy will only get you to around 300 to 400 meters when you are running on muddy grounds.

If you are constantly doing cross country running, you can slowly improve your stamina.

That will have a positive effect if you plan to participate in standard marathon races.

  • Increase in Speed

The main reason many runners and professional athletes participate in cross country running is speed.

Everyone wants to run fast, and the changing terrain and rugged courses would help you achieve the breakthrough that you are looking for.

The increase in endurance and the improvement in your muscle strength can lead to a significant increase in speed.

If you can run fast on uneven terrains, you can run faster on straight, concrete roads.

what is cross country running

How Do You Prepare for Cross Country Competitions?

Whether you plan to compete and win the race or want to participate to stay fit and healthy, you need to prepare for the cross country running event.

You want to be in top shape during the event, so there are a few things that you have to keep in mind before the competition.

Some of the most notable ones are:

1. Buy the Right Pair of Running Shoes

If it is your first time participating in cross country, you have to get a pair of running shoes that are perfect for your foot type and running gait.

You have to remember that regular running shoes won’t do the trick because they don’t have enough traction for the changing courses in the competition.

You can find cross country running shoes made specifically for this type of event, or you can also use trail running shoes since they provide the protection and traction that you need for this running competition.

2. Try to Mimic the Course

You should do some research on the course and focus your training there.

Although there are basic training guidelines that you can follow like long runs, long and short intervals interspersed, and tempo work, you need to mimic the course’s terrain and elevate the course to help you train.

It is better to do this a few weeks before the actual event and start training immediately.

That would be enough for you to adapt to the changing landscape of the course.

Unlike a regular marathon race, cross country courses will break your rhythm, so instead of just running fast, you need to learn to adapt.

3. Work on Your Stamina

Cross country courses would drain your stamina faster than a regular marathon race.

If you can run from 700 to 800 meters at full speed in a regular marathon race, you can only run for about 400 to 500 meters at full speed in cross country running, especially if the ground is rocky or muddy.

As such, you need to build up your stamina and make sure that you can finish the course.

4. Improve Your Pacing

Learning how to run at different paces without spending too much energy is essential when participating in a cross country running event.

You should alternate between sprinting and jogging and try to let your body adapt to running at different speeds.

Participating in Cross Country Running

Don’t get intimidated after knowing what is cross country running. Instead, you should focus on improving yourself if you want to participate.

It may look challenging and daunting, but it is also an opportunity for you to keep your body fit and improve your running speed.

Just always make sure that you prepare yourself before your cross country competition to lessen the chances of injuries.

8 thoughts on “What Is Cross Country Running and How to Prepare for It”

  1. My friend was in a cross country club before when she went to college in North Carolina. I have to say that she was in the best shape of her life, not only her physique but also her mind. I personally love trail running because of the scenery, and it is a great way to bond with all my friends. I like to add that the runner’s rash is very common as well, so getting the right clothes is essential. Also, having powder on hand is useful. Oh, and inflammation is also normal when you retraining, I say drink a lot of water and I personally Take the CBD oil to help with it. Cross country sounds difficult, but it is a good challenge that I would like to cross off my bucket list someday. Hopefully, when this pandemic is over, we are all can go run.

    • Hello, Nuttanee, and thank you.

      Thank you for your kind words.

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

  2. Hello Johann,

    Several times I have witnessed cross country running competition in my hometown in the northern Philippines. Our Mayors would sponsor sports events, and all municipalities participate. I fully agree about the reasons athletes do not reach the finish line – shoes are vital, very important to consider when preparing to participate in cross country running, whether it is for fun, for self, or competition.

    Wearing the wrong type of shoes in this sport may bring injury to the feet.

    It is not advisable to participate in cross country running if one has not had a similar regular workout, such as jogging and other physical fitness activities.

    It’s nice to see that your website is prepared to recommend all types of shoes relevant to any type of sport.

    So thankful for this helpful article.

    More blessings to you,


    • Hello, Chuna, 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. That’s a wonderful article there. Many people like to stay fit. Hence they get involved with activities that will help them get the fitness goal they actually need and want. This article is an amazing guide for running but lacking knowledge of the basic terms that have to do with running. I just learned what cross country running is and how to participate in them.

    • 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. Although I am now a senior, I still enjoy running. About two decades ago, I used to participate in an iron man competition, which included a cross-country leg. I never did particularly well, but I enjoy the fitness level I was at. I have recently been running on a track because my balance is not that great, and undulations in the path can trip me up. We adjust as we need to. None the less, your article was inspirational. I found a great release from the stress that you mentioned when I ran. I also felt a sense of accomplishment.

    • Hello, Anastazja, and thank you.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Yes, we do the best with all circumstances! And when another form of the run is better, we, of course, use it.

      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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