Cross Country Running Tips

Cross Country running introduces thousands of teens every year to running as a sport and a fitness lifestyle.  Imagine the rushing hormones and adrenaline of teens running in packs; they create an exciting spectacle.  My daughter and son-in-law actually met on the cross country team at the local high school.  Being attracted to his handsome, tall, lean physique, she found out he ran and joined the team—the girls’ and boys’ teams trained together, but raced separately.  His cross country team took state the year they met.  Six years later, with one running after the other (both figuratively and literally true), they finally figured out they were in love and got married.

Although cross country running doesn’t guarantee you a mate for life, it does guarantee new friends, fitness and a competitive edge for any sport that requires running.  Many athletes use cross country as an off-season training program; others see cross country as the team to be on and play other sports in the off-season to stay in shape for cross country.  Most cross country races are 3 miles and their training methods are similar to 5K, 10K and half marathons.  How can your teen become a great athlete as a cross country runner?   There is nothing more basic or exciting than a foot race.  The whole team lines up and takes off at the same time.   No specialized positions or equipment, no umpires’ decisions or other flukes control the outcome, just good preparation, hard work, teamwork and mental toughness.   Here are two body technique running tips to help you maximize your own performance.

1– Learn how to breathe correctly and use your body to maximize speed and endurance.  The correct breathing method is to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  The hair follicles in the nose, filter and moisturize the air, protecting your airways and lungs from pollutants and from unnecessary dehydration.  Breathing out through the mouth allows the lungs to empty quicker so another breath can be taken in through the nose.

2–Peter, a cross country runner at demonstrated how to use full body movement to increase speed.  While the arms are held bent and close to the body, they stay relaxed and pump faster going up hills or passing other racers.  The shoulders and hands also stay relaxed.  Straining muscles cause pain.  Consciously think of relaxing the facial muscles, shoulders, arms and hands.  The work should be focused on the legs, with the weight mainly on the calf muscles, landing with a mid-foot strike or ball strike.  The feet should only touch the ground lightly as your keep your pace.

Here are a few more cross country running tips proven by some of the country’s best teams to improve your performance.

1-     The number one tip for all distance racers is DON’T START TOO FAST.   Hold back the urge to surge to the front of the pack in the first mile.  Keep an even pace, which means that to stay constant, it will feel like you are running faster in the last half of the race.  Save a little for the end sprint.  Don’t run to the finish line, run through it.

2-     Train throughout the preseason.  Cross Country running is not just for three months.  You need to stay in condition throughout the year.  Keep a running program or train for another sport, preferably one that uses large muscles and requires aerobic endurance.

3-     Learn to run hills to your advantage.  Know your pace and Keep it strong and steady, pumping your arms faster as you climb.  Increase your speed as you crest the hill.  Running downhill, run as fast as gravity and your legs will carry you, but not too fast, causing a fall.  Extend the hill by continuing to run at the faster downhill pace after you have reached the next flat.

4-     Know the Cross Country Race course.  Knowing the course will help you plan your race strategy.  Where are the hills, curves and other large landmarks in the race?  Where can you pass other runners?

5-     Plan a race strategy.  Cross Country Running is a mental exercise in addition to the physical exercise.  Plan out your moves to find your spot in the pack, where you plan to accelerate and pass other runners,  where your team is going to make their big move, and how you plan to finish.

6-     Prepare mentally and physically.  Be ready to face the challenges of the course.  Train well throughout the preseason and during the training period of the season.  Get adequate sleep 3-4 nights in a row before the race.  Sometimes it is difficult to sleep the night before a big race, but if you sleep well the other 3 nights, you will be okay.  Eat complex carbs the day before a race and hydrate well.  Mentally, stay optimistic and pace well through the finish.  Stay relaxed before the race by listening to music, or doing a few gentle warm-ups.

7-     Run with your Pack.  Your teammates are a great motivator.  Stay with them and make your move together.  There is hardly anything as devastating as a whole team breezing by you in the last half of the race.

8-     Run fast and relaxed.  A big challenge in cross country running is the fatigue and pain caused by straining.  Minimize this effect by visualizing each muscle not involved in the race relaxing, such as hands, facial, neck and shoulder muscles.  Go fast and loose.  Tension slows you down.

9-     Stay mentally in focus—Keep your goal in mind—the finish line.  Celebrate each landmark passed and effective strategy used.  Don’t get distracted by pain, fatigue, cute girls or your dad’s booming voice.

10-   Celebrate smart—stay away from alcohol and drugs as you celebrate your win.  Rest the day after a race to allow the body time to rebound for the next race.  Keep racing!