I absolutely love cross country running. The training, the workouts, the races all make for a wonderful experience. If you are not familiar with the sport of cross country, you need to see a race to fully understand what it is all about. Imagine your favorite sport. Now invite all the best teams and all the all stars to play at the same time on the same field. That's what a championship cross country is like.
Let's start with what a cross country race is. The distance of a cross country race varies from high school to college, but they are usually between 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) and 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). All the runners start at the same time. The first runner to the finish wins.
To find out which team wins is pretty simple too. Most team races allow seven to twelve runners on each team. The first five finishers from each team count for your team points. The team with the lowest point total 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 just two teams racing head to head, or for the really large invitationals, upwards of 50 teams can race all at the same time.
Another reason why cross country is so unique is all the runners are running against each other at the same time. Imagine taking all the best track runners and letting them run against each other. That's what happens. Many high school and college cross country teams have great long distance and middle distance runners racing together. People from the 400 meter dash up to individuals who run the 2 mile on the track squad will make up a high school team. In college it is usually the track runners from the 1 mile and up that make up the cross country squad.
Training for the sport is unique too. Often, many of your training runs are done on the trails or running around hilly terrain. I have been able to run at so many beautiful state park trails because of cross country. To improve, you have to build up the amount you run gradually. This way you avoid injury, but you get your endurance level up to incredible levels after months of training.
Finally comes championship racing season. At the end of the season, there are two big races. First comes the qualifying race for the championship. At this race, only a select few teams and the top few finishers qualify for the championship race. For the final race of the season, all the best individuals and teams come together. It's like the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl wrapped into one event. As a competitor, you get to run against the best of the best. As a spectator, you get to see a great individual race as well as watch the teams battle it out in the middle of the pack.
In the fall, check to see where your local high school team races, or where the local college holds their home meets. Seeing a race in person is a unique experience. If you are not sure about joining your high school team, I guarantee you will not regret it. Running cross country brings the best out of people. There is something about working together towards a common goal that sticks with you for a lifetime.