When people think of cross country running, they often picture a group of skinny people sweating profusely as they compete for first place. Although this image is for the most part correct, it is also sadly lacking in an understanding of the sport. Cross country is not a sport concerned with mindless running. It is, in fact, full of strategy and thought.
A Little History
People have been running for as long as they have existed, whether it be while hunting or fleeing or having a little bit of fun. As a competitive sport, cross country began in the early 19th Century in England. At the time the game was called Paperchase. In this game a group of runners would create a random trail by dropping little pieces of paper and a second group would pursue the first team. The first formal competition of this sport was the Crick Run, first held at Rugby School in 1837. Many similar competitions followed subsequently. The sport eventually rose to a national level in England with the creation of the English National Cross Country Championship, established in 1837.
Cross country running first took off in the United States when it was adopted by Harvard as a sport in 1880. By 1890 the sport had its first intercollegiate meet in the United States, which included schools such as Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. A little earlier than that, in 1887, the National Cross Country Association was founded in the US.
International competition soon followed, when in 1898 a competition was held between England and France. It was not much later (1912 in fact) that it was a competition in the summer Olympics, but was eventually dropped. Since then cross country has grown into an internationally recognised sport, with competitions on all levels.
Common Misconceptions about Cross Country Running
One of the largest misconceptions about cross country running is that it's all about physical endurance. It is not. In fact, a rather large part of it is mental. The runner must be able to endure an astounding amount of pain. It not only takes a person in great physical shape, but a person with determination who is willing to run through incredible pain to gain victory.
Another misconception is that cross country is an individual sport. To some extent this idea is true. People who run cross country do continually strive to beat their own records, but that is not all they do. In a race, cross country becomes a team sport. People are not only concerned about their own place, but also how the rest of their seven-person team will fare.
The Rules of Cross Country Racing
The rules of cross country racing are fairly simple and yet allow for some interesting strategy. Some of the more obvious rules include no hurting other runners, and running along the course. These rules are obvious, but the scoring system is not. Points are assigned by the place in which a runner finishes, so if a person finishes first one point is given and if a runner finishes thirty first, thirty one points are given. The point of the race, much like golf strangely enough, is to have a team with the lowest number of points. As a result of this scoring system, teams are only able to win if all of their runners are at about the same level, because the place of the team's slowest runner is the most important in determining the number of points. While each cross country team is composed of seven runners, only the scores of the top five are counted.
There is no specific length involved with cross country running. However, common distances include the 3k, most common with younger children; the 5k, common among high school competition; and the 8k, common in intercollegiate competition.
The Best Conditions for Cross Country Racing
While cross country is a sport that can be undertaken in all weather conditions and on thousands of different courses, there are certain optimum conditions. These optimum conditions, both weather and environmental, are often up to personal preference.
Autumn and spring are the most popular season for this sport by far. In general, most people prefer the cooler temperatures associated with them, for racing; however, many cross country runners train throughout the year. Cloudy days are also most favoured as they have a minimal amount of direct sunlight.
Favourable courses are much more subjective than favourable weather. While some people like easier runs, provided by a flatter course, others enjoy difficult hilly courses. The type of terrain is also an important factor involved in cross country races. Most runners prefer the soft support provided by grassy surfaces; however, some runners do prefer harder surfaces such as pavement. Very difficult running surfaces include sand, mud, and snow.
Equipment Necessary for Cross Country Racing
The basic equipment necessary for a cross country race include a pair of running shoes, a pair of shorts, and a shirt. While this is the basic equipment, runners may wish to improve their running performance by buying certain special equipment. In particular, cross country spikes, which offer better traction and are much lighter, can often dramatically improve times. Team members also often wear short shorts and a jersey, which are extremely light and also provide team identification.