man running on trail

Like track, cross country involves running over a predetermined course. Unlike track, however, it's much more than simply running from point A to point B. Cross country can take you over dirt trails, grassy fields, steep hills, rocky areas, and muddy terrain--even through creeks and streams. Intrigued? Read on to learn more about why you might like cross country and how to get started.

The Benefits of Cross Country
Cross country can be a particularly grueling sport, yet it pays back big dividends for the time and energy invested.

For Kids and Adults
Although many are introduced to cross country as an organized sport in junior high or high school, people of all ages can enjoy it. Though it may be harder to find cross country races for adults, cities throughout the United States hold races for adult and Masters (over age 40) runners.

Individual and Team Rewards
Cross country is a team-based sport, but unlike most team sports, it features individual place winners as well as team champions. In other words, you can win a race even if your team loses and vice versa--you can be on a winning team even when you have a bad race.

Equal Playing Time
While in some sports you might go a whole game without seeing much play time, cross country is an equal-advantage sport. Every runner--from the strongest to the least experienced--lines up on the same starting line and runs the same course. Each team member faces the same terrain obstacles and has an equal chance to bring home individual and team victories.

Mental and Physical Challenge
Cross country is as tactical as it is challenging. While you must have the stamina to endure and navigate terrain that changes each race, you must also be able to use strategies to overcome physical challenges, making it ideal for the thinking person and for the bodily-minded alike.

Substantial Achievement
There are few experiences that can top the exhaustion mixed with euphoria that you feel when you cross the finish line in a cross country race. The camaraderie of running with teammates and against frequent competitors over difficult courses produces a real feeling of accomplishment, no matter where you and your team place.

Cross Country Gear
If cross country sounds like your kind of activity, you'll just need a few things to get started. One of the bonuses of the sport is that you don't need much specialized equipment. A specialized running store will have knowledgeable employees who can help you find the right fit and style shoe for cross country running (you might consider shoes specifically for trail running, which can give better traction on dirt and grass than regular running shoes).

Some coaches recommend having two pairs of shoes if possible: one for training and one for racing. If you go this route, your trainers should be a well-cushioned pair, and your racing shoes should be a lighter pair of trail flats or cross country spikes, which you should only wear during competition. Beyond that, a pair of light-weight running shorts, a breathable shirt, and a water bottle are all you need to get started (you may also opt for a digital watch to time your workouts).

Eating Right for Cross Country
As a cross country athlete, eating right can make or break your performance. Runners should always maintain a healthy low-fat diet with a particular emphasis on carbohydrates, which allow your body to respond to high energy demands. Here are some specific suggestions for runners:

  • Eat plenty of complex carbs such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, as well as foods that are rich in protein
  • Avoid fast food, which provides empty calories rather than long-term energy
  • Eat lightly before a race--eating closer than two to three hours before running can cause cramps