You don't have to be anybody special to be a cross country runner. I've seen people as young as 3 and as old as, well I'm not sure how old, but there's no limit. All you need is the will power and determination, and perhaps a good pair of tennis shoes.

In high school the races are usually 5 kilometers long ( a little over 3 miles). This is one sport where boys and girls compete during the same sports season. They are on different teams, though e.g. girls varsity, boys varsity, girls jv, boys jv.

In my experience as a high school cross country runner, runners are some of the nicest people I've ever met. Only in cross country will a perfect stranger catch you and help you walk after running race.

Don't get me wrong, I love running. There's just something about running through the woods that makes you feel more alive. If you have ever gotten up, just before the sun rose, and walked outside. That smell you smell, that is what running is all about. That everything-is-alive smell that makes you want to become part of it.

Running has been my primary form of exercise for several years now. The coach was telling some us a while back about some study he'd seen claiming that distance running on a regular basis actually improved your brain functions. He correlates this with the fact that track/cross country program at my school has, over a sampling of the past 50 years, had more total honor roll students than any other athletic program.

The study supposedly said that regular running stimulated and augmented blood flow to your brain, meaning it got more oxygen and was able to function better in all respects. So not only is running a fairly enjoyable and beneficial excercise, but it makes you smarter, too!

No wonder football players get the dumb stereotype...

There is a difference between running cross country and running track. The scenery changes. With track, you just run in circles. Cross country runners get a variety of terrains, such as rocky trails, grassy plains, or tall forests. A 400 meter oval of astroturf is nothing compared to the beauty of a mountain run.

Distance running is something special. You breathe differently. Running up a hill requires a completely different breathing patterm than running on a flat road. Steps start at the back of the heel and finish by rolling off the front of the toes. Sprinters just don't understand... Cross country is not about who can reach the finish the fastest, its about who can endure the longest. Track stars don't make good marathon runners.

Cross country is the only sport where everyone says "good job!" Running down a street or even during a race, every single person you run by will give you a smile or fumble out those two encouraging words. Somehow, these little gestures keep a person going even if they feel wiped out by their overwhelming workout.

Running cross country was the highlight of my high school career. My experiences were not limited to races, but extended far beyond into a community where I felt encouraged to excel in every aspect of my life. My freshman year, I was obviously a pretty slow runner.. I remember my very first day of summer practice! After 10 minutes of running, I could not feel my quads because I was so sore. Each year I improved, soon becoming the Boys Cross Country Captain my senior year.

The race that I am most proud of was my very last run with my high school cross country team. League finals, senior year, was being held at Mt. Sac. The course consisted of four parts: a one mile "valley loop", the "switchbacks", "poop-out" hill and "reservoir" hill. All of Southern California would agree, this is one of the most difficult courses around. I was more mentally prepared for this run than any other. I knew the course. I could feel each hill, each rock, each turn, each footstep. I ran like I had never run before. Before then, I had never broken 19 minutes at sac. That day I ran a 17:53! I cried at the finish line. It was my reward for four years of running. That made it all worth it.

For our banquet at the end of the season, each runner votes for the P.R.I.D.E. awards. These are the most valuable awards that a runner can get because they are voted upon by his or her fellow teammates.

  • Performance -- This is one of the fastest runners. They always finish races in the first pack, and are usually upperclassmen.
  • Reliability -- This runner is a person you can count on to finish a race strong. They may not the fastest, but finish very high on the list and are very valuable runners.
  • Improvement -- The improvement award goes to the person who has come the farthest during the season. They may have been just a beginner and have turned to following the varsity pack.
  • Dedication -- This person has the most respect for Cross Country, and has fallen in love with the sport. They are always encouraging their fellow teammates.
  • Effort -- A runner who is constantly working hard to improve and become the best runner that they can possibly be gets this award. They always begin a race with finishing strong in mind.
  • My sophmore year, my peers voted me for the improvement award. My junior year, they voted me the effort award. My senior year, my fellow runners voted for me for the dedication award. To this day, I proudly display those trophies on my shelf at home. :)

    Running is a way of life.

    Running is one of my main and most enjoyable forms of exercise. I was on my 8th grade cross country team and my high school cross country team my sophomore year, but had to leave because they told me to cut my hair. Facist Catholic hair police got in my way a lot in high school.

    I actually started running in 6th grade because I didn't want to wait for the bus, and buses here in San Francisco can be very slow and irritating to deal with. I just didn't have the patience for it and I prefered the challenge and fun of running home. Many a time I ran alongside a bus and passed it, often catching the notice of a bus driver. Some tried to race me. It was all a lot of fun. Good memories.

    Now, to turn this from a GTKY node into something other people might benefit from.

    My advice to anyone who wants to start seriously running is as follows:

    Shoes: Get a good pair of running shoes. Special shoes called running flats are often required on Cross Country teams but aren't necesary for recreational long-distance running. Something comfortable with a thick enough sole to absorb the impact of your feet on the ground. Basketball shoes are too big usually and that's when weight starts becoming a factor. I recommend the variety often called "cross-trainers". They tend to be midrange in terms of weight and tend to work well for long distance running.

    The consequences of running without good shoes are fairly severe. You will damage your knees. I say this because it's a simple equation. Too much shock, not enough shock absorbtion and your joints will start to ache. This is an excellent way for a beginning runner to get discouraged and fear running.

    Breathing: Long distance running is as much breathing as it is running. Oxygen is your fuel when running. If you're breathing too sharply or not breathing deep enough it will begin to affect your running. Take deep breaths and don't be disouraged when your lungs start to tire. Do the best you can and do not let your breathing become that panicked, choppy, tired breathing it naturally wants to when you start getting tired. Practice deep breathing when you aren't running to expand your lung capacity.

    Smoking: Don't. If you smoke cigarettes you're already not the type of person to run long distances I imagine, but if you're thinking of getting more into exercise at all, quitting smoking is imperative. As I said earlier, oxygen is your fuel, you don't need to reduce your capacity for fuel. It only hurts your ability to run. You just can't be a nicotine addict and a long distance runner. If anyone out there says they can, from personal experience, great, you're an idiot. Wait a few years.

    Location: Boredom is as much your enemy as anything else. Find an interesting place to run, in fact, find several. Run in places you'd never normally think to run, run to work, school or wherever. You might need a shower or a change of clothes, but think ahead.

    Stretching: There are a few different ways to look at stretching. Some people feel that too much stretching will reduce the benefits of a run. I personally am more worried about not stretching. If you don't stretch at all you WILL hurt yourself. This too, is not a "maybe". It's a certainty. You will hurt yourself long before you reap any benefits of running. Do some basic leg stretches before you run. If you've been in any physical education class you know what I'm talking about, I can't really explain too well with words here, but I think you get the idea. My advice in regards to the people who don't want to stretch too much, well, there is some sense in that. Don't get a massage or sit in a sauna or anything, but definitely get loose.

    How to Run a Cross Country Meet: Tactics and Strategy

    Before the Race (T-minus 24 hours)

    • Sleep: Get a good night's rest for a couple of days leading up to the meet.
    • Water: Drink plenty of water. Failure to do so will lead to nausea and dehydration, which can be dangerous. Carry a water bottle around with you and drink throughout the day.
    • Diet: Don't eat a big lunch the day of the race, which can lead to stomach cramps. Small snacks throughout the day are much safer. Salad and other vegetables can also lead to digestive problems while running.
    • Practice: Any practicing you do within this time period should be light. The day before the race, stretch well and do some easy running.
    • Psych Yourself!: Imagine yourself running like never before, completing the race with ease. A little confidence can't hurt.
    • Pre-race Warmup: Stretch and do some jogging before the race. Keep loose.

    The Race

    • The Start: There are essentially two ways of starting a cross country meet. The one you apply to your race will determine your strategy for the duration of the meet and impact your final standing tremendously. It depends greatly upon the sort of person you are, and that is something you have to know long before you hear the gun.
      1. Sprinters: Sprinters take off as fast as they can at the start to gain valuable ground on their opponents. They have an obvious advantage at the beginning of the race, but lose a lot of energy vying for position at the front with other sprinters. The strategy involves taking a good position at the beginning and holding it as competitors attempt to pass them. Pacing can become difficult to maintain with this strategy, but if done carefully a sprinting-type strategy can work out quite well.
      2. Backrunners: A backrunner runs the start at the same (or a slightly faster) pace as the rest of the race. A backrunner hopes to save energy at the beginning in order to pick his opponents off one by one later in the race when the sprint they indulged in at the start catches up to them. Backrunners are of course at a significant disadvantage in the early race. They must not only make up the significant distance between themselves and the frontrunners, but also pass each runner separating them from their target. Given that runners tend to clump into groups in the early race, backrunners may be advised to save energy and wait for these clumps to dissipate, should they encounter a substantial one. Although they begin in a unenviable position, backrunners are more than capable of making up their lost ground with patience and good pacing.

  • Hills
    • Uphill: On a hill of any significant steepness, it is advisable to shorten your stride a bit, while keeping the rate of turnover constant. It is very easy to kill yourself in this situation. You do not want to feel your legs burning upon reaching the top of a hill! If you feel the burn coming on, back off a bit. If a guy you were running near passes you, accelerate by him when you get to the top of the hill. His legs will be burning, and it will be a psychological blow to see you whizzing by like that hill was nothing.
    • Downhill: Free speed! Open up your stride as much as you can, and let gravity do the work.
  • Cornering
    • Wide Corners: On a nice, gradual turn, keep to the inside and accelerate. These will probably comprise the majority of the corners you will come across.
      • Passing Around a Wide Corner : If you're on a straightaway heading toward a wide corner, and the guy in front of you just won't die, here's a great way to make him run a bit farther. First, draw level with him. Accelerate past him on the inside so that you are slightly farther ahead than he is. Make sure he can't cut in behind you without slowing down or tripping you (which the referee should penalize him for). Then, keep him in that spot for the duration of the turn. He'll either slow down to get behind you or be forced to run a wider corner than he would otherwise have to. Regardless, you gain ground.
    • Tight Corners: These are a bit less intuitive. If you take a 150 degree turn on the inside, you will practically have to stop to turn when you reach the bend. Accelerate, and take these in a nice wide arc on the outside. Sure, you'll run a little farther, but it "flows" a lot more easily and you'll lose less speed than the guy trying to cut his distance.
    • Blind Corners: If someone is following you around a "blind" corner (one where he can't see the other side), accelerate dramatically as soon as you're out of sight. When he gets around the corner and sees what a lead you've gained, he'll lose the fighting spirit quickly.
  • The Finish: Begin increasing your speed about half a mile from the finish line. By the time you get there, hopefully you will be at a dead sprint or some reasonable approximation thereof. There are no backrunners when it comes to the home stretch, so don't hold back! After the Race
    • Cool Down: When you get your breath back, go for a jog and stretch, in that order.
    • Don't Sit Down!: It's terrible for your legs, and will make you cramp up, especially if you sit "Indian style".
    • Think: What can you do better next time? What were your mistakes? Learn from them while they're fresh in your mind.

    Update: Serjeant's Muse has informed me that "Your advice on wide corners, unless you KNOW you are a superior racer, is incorrect. The person on the outside has the advantage. On anything but the elite level two runners will generally pull even with each other on a gradual turn, coming out of that turn, if they both maintain the same speed, the person who was on the outside will start to pull ahead. for a better example, imagine someone passing to the outside on a track, if they pull even at the height of the turn, they'll appear to take off down the straightaway." My thanks go out to him for correcting me.
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