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What is Cross Country Running?

(Contributed by Len Goldman)

Cross country running is a sport in which runners compete to complete a course over open or rough terrain. The courses used at these events may include grass, mud, woodlands, hills, flat ground and water....

For a concise description, click here:

In Northern California, most cross country races take place on dirt trails or fire roads.  There will sometimes be a grassy section and perhaps even a section of roadway.  In other parts of the country, golf courses are often used and one of the largest meets in the Bay Area for high school and collegiate runners takes place on the Stanford Golf Course.


In my experience, I have found regular running shoes are usually okay.  I would start with these and after a race or two decide what you want to do.  There are cross country running shoes, that have soft rubber "nubbies" on the bottom, but I found they did not offer much support.  A trail running shoe is another option. My recommendation is to start out with your regular running shoe and see how it works for you and then decide if you want a different type of shoe for cross country.


The women always run first and the two genders never race together.  The start line will often be marked with a flour line and teams usually line up and start together.  There probably will be mile markers, but no one calling out splits.  Turns or other course changes may be marked with flour or a course monitor may direct you.  Some sections of the course may be single track and you will be unable to pass other runners.  There are no aid stations except at the end of the race, so you may want to carry your own water.  Except for the championship race, no race t-shirt, its very low frills.  In cross country running, because of the team emphasis and scoring, runners from the same team often practice "pack" running, i.e.., running with your teammates as much as possible to bunch your scorers together at the finish.


Note, usually the distances the women run is shorter than what the men run.  So, in some cases the courses run by the women is different than what the men run.  My experience is with the courses run by the men and when the two differ I will point this out.  Unfortunately, there are no course maps on-line since unlike road races, cross country races do not have to be "certified."  So more often than not, you just follow the runners in front of you.  If you arrive early enough to a particular course, you can jog the entire course as a warm-up prior to your race, so you have a better idea of what to expect.

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