Cross Country Running Tips

Belmont Plateau - Cross Country Race Start

These cross country running tips were compiled to help new runners decide if this sport is for them and to assist experienced runners with some tips to get stronger and faster. The tips below are from runners that have run at the grade school level, high school (HS), collegiate, and even marathon and ultra-marathon road race levels. Use these cross country running tips as a guide, paired with your own situation and experience to assist you in your running efforts.

Cross country (XC) is a unique sport and one which will probably become a life-altering activity if you chose to join your school’s team. There are many benefits from social aspects to the mental and physical benefits of running – cross country will shape you both literally and figuratively. Many sports offer physical activity, but few offer the chance of adopting a lifetime hobby that builds strength, confidence, and long-term healthy habits. If you’re thinking about joining, here are some of the finer selling points of running on a cross country team:

  • Everyone gets to play!
    There are no bench-warmers in XC. So lace up your sneakers and be ready to run. Many sports make cuts and then sit half of the team that actually makes the cut. Not XC. Most teams will take anyone that can run the distance. Cross country is a sport of hard work and determination, not one of glitz and glamour. Practice hard and keep running, and you’re likely to make the team…and run in most, if not every, meet!
  • There are many ways to win
    While it’s fun to compete against your own friends and the runners from other teams in the race, you’ll always be able to run against your most fierce competitor…yourself. Tracking your progress and watching your improvement will give you an inner confidence and a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. There’s nothing like stepping onto the school bus in the morning and thinking to yourself, “I wonder who else ran 2 miles before the sun came up!”
  • Low cost
    Aside from a good pair of running shoes, XC does not require any special equipment or gear…good selling point for Mom & Dad ;-). Many sports carry an enormous expenses for equipment, uniforms, and facility rental…in cross country it’s just you and the great outdoors!
  • Slim Down
    The running schedule of most teams includes a lot of weekly miles, which is a great way to trim off any unwanted pounds. You’ll gain muscle tone and keep a more slender and healthy figure…which is a nice side benefit to a fun sport.
  • Feel Great!
    Over time you will start to almost crave the feeling you get from running. Some credit the body’s natural endorphin release (“Runner’s High”). I think it’s a combination of this and the triumph of the physical & mental accomplishment. Each workout is like conquering your own personal Mt. Everest. It feels great and will give you more positive energy in all aspects of your life.

Sound good?...Ready to join?...OK…let’s get onto the cross country running tips that you came here to read in the first place…

  • Cross Country Running Tip #1: Gradual Improvement
    Running is an intense exercise that works out many muscle groups and can be quite exhausting. If we try to do too much too soon (like going from 0 miles per week to 30 miles per week…we’re likely to get injured). Make a pre-season plan and aim for only slight increases in weekly mileage…the season is intense enough, so give yourself time to rest & rebuild in preparation.
  • Cross Country Running Tip #2: Some Stress is OK
    As eluded to above, the recipe to get stronger and faster is…Stress + Rest. “Stress” can come in the form of an interval workout, a hill workout, or a long run that pushes your endurance limits. Each time the body goes through these physical stresses, it responds by rebuilding to meet and exceed the challenge the next time. What does this mean? If you want to run faster, practice running fast. Run intervals! For the HS cross country distance (5k or 3.1 miles), ¼ mile intervals are very effective, as are hill workouts. Start off by doing 3 or 4 and work up to more over time. Be careful not to skip the “Rest” part of the equation, though. Your body needs a chance to rebuild during rest, or else it may break down (injury). Time your intervals and chart your progress over a month or two. Intervals will help you get stronger and faster as a runner. And be patient, these changes come about over weeks and months of hard work…not days.
  • Cross Country Running Tip #3: Use Positive Peer Pressure
    Even if you’re the fastest runner on the team, the benefits of having fellow runners can make you better. From competition in speed work to the camaraderie that comes with a team, the people that you run with will motivate you to perform your best by their words and their actions. Use this phenomenon to your advantage. You will form bonds with your teammates like no others in life, and it’s an environment like this that raises everyone’s performance to a new level. Look at some of the dynasty sports teams over the years…did they have the best players?…or did they work so well together that they all look liked superstars? Teams with a positive atmosphere foster friendly competition and make runners better. Help foster this type of atmosphere on your team and everyone will benefit.
  • Cross Country Running Tip #4: Have Fun!
    There were many instances that I would get so obsessed with getting a certain time or place in a race that I spent precious energy on worrying instead of relaxing and enjoying the run. It may sound ludicrous to “enjoy” an activity that most people describe as grueling…but it can be done. There was an invitational in Manhattan that our team ran every year. It usually attracted the best teams from the NE United States. It was a chance to shine as an individual and as a team. During my senior year, race day was near monsoon conditions. The trails were like small rivers and the hills were like waterfalls. But it was the most fun that I’ve ever had running a cross country race! Head-to-toe covered in mud, we jogged to the starting line cheering and laughing as a team…as most of the other runners sat there miserable and shivering..and looking at us as if we were crazy. Some of our runners actually had a PR that day…all from attitude. Go out there and enjoy yourself – the race clock may pleasantly surprise you!

I could dedicate an entire website to the topic of cross country running tips…let alone this short page, but the pillars of advice remain the same: hard work, practice, rest, and fun. If you’re on a team already, I hope these tips helped you, even if they only sparked an idea for your training or team’s unity. If you’re thinking about joining an XC team, I can’t think of any better sports choice to make. Cross country is much more than just another sport, it’ll define your character. Happy Running.

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