By now, you might be thinking there's an endless amount of training styles for running. Well, you aren't wrong, the trails never end and there are always new styles coming to the surface. But for today's running session we're talking about what cross country running really is. So lace up those sneakers and let's get going.

Here's What Cross Country Running Really is

First things first, it doesn't mean actually running across the country (though sometimes a race can feel like that). Cross country (XC) running is a sport in which a race is on an open-air course over natural terrain surfaces; dirt, grass, pavement, hills, truly any terrain you can think of, you can run on. A course can be anywhere from 4-12 kilometers long (2.4- 7.4 miles). From experience, collegiate races for women are 5 kilometers (5k, 3.14 miles) and men are 8 kilometers (8k, 4.9 miles). Though these miles probably aren't nearly as far as you thought they were, after reading "cross country," but it's much more difficult than you think.

The challenge is in the terrain. It's both beautiful and grueling. Running over the wide variety of surfaces takes your body through the wringer. From dirt and grass to mud and rocks, on top of sharp turns and short steep hills the race is always filled with surprises. These disrupted patterns make the course way more exciting but difficult, so there are certain tips to tackling these monsters. I'll give you the inside scoop below!

Learning the Tools

While most track or road races are largely dependent on pace, XC is dictated by effort and when to use it. Trying to maintain pace with all the constant terrain changes is difficult. Instead, you'll want to learn to maintain a steady effort rather than set an even pace. The difference between the two is this: the pace is how your time each mile splits based on stride and focus. The effort, in this case, is how you exert your speed at the right times. The key is to find the effort level that you're confident you can maintain, make that your consistent pace, and have enough extra fuel to take you through the unknown. In order to gauge your effort levels and train for an XC race, use these workouts to get your body and mind ready.

XC Tips

  1. Take on hills - While some courses can be flat as a pancake, others are not. You'll want to become proficient at going up and down hills as this is the surest way to get the feel for those hills, big or small.
  2. Take the back roads - This includes the uneven terrain; soft dirt, thick grass, and mud; all of which take a lot of energy to run through. Taking the back roads refers to stepping off the pavement and running on grass or gravel roads. This will help build the strength your legs need to lift a bit higher and push a bit stronger through the surfaces.
  3. Master the start line - One of the hardest positions of any course is the start line. This is where hundreds of runners prepare to take the course. With bodies tackling the force, you must be the strongest to get through the pack. You'll want to exert your most effort because if you get stuck in the back, your times and your dominance will suffer.
  4. Run in groups - This also goes hand in hand with tip #3 because it will prepare you for the start line. No matter which distance you run, 4k-12k, you'll be near a lot of people for the first mile or two. Prepare by running with others close by, both for support and strength purposes.

Push the Boundaries

Whether you're new to running or new to cross country training, these tips will help you on any course. Building overall strength is beneficial for all types of running. Hopefully, you can better gauge what cross country running really is. And if you're looking for some great trails, here you go.