Cross Country Racing: The Middle Way

It’s not the trail. It’s not the road. Cross country racing is the middle way.  Something else entirely. And it’s good.

I ran the 2014 USATF Cross Country Club National Championships at Lehigh University in December and made it a point to talk to as many runners as I could to try and find out why they were running a cross country race.

You can see from this picture why I ran: the snazzy uniform from my team, Lehigh Valley Road Runners, not to mention the excuse to buy bright orange spikes.

The Goldilocks Effect: The road is too hard and repetitive. The trail is too soft and unpredictable. The grass is juuuust right.


The runners I met at the meet were veterans of trail and road running who find cross country as either a safer alternative than rugged trail runs or as a refreshing break from the pounding of the road.

“There is a fear of the unknown. Of the unpredictability of cross country,” said a female elementary school teacher and member of Colonial Road Runners in Williamsburg, VA. “But I’ve been on trail runs and those are harder. I trip all the time on trail runs. This was all groomed and easier to run on,” said.

“Trail runs have more hazards and are more technical than cross country. Do I want to twist my ankle on a trail?” I hear from a member of the Atlanta Track Club.   “At road races people are just running for faster times.”

“But this cross country race was different,” she explains. “I was going back and forth with a woman as we ran. And finally she just yelled over to me ‘Go get it,’ and we both took off. We were really going at it, but it was supportive. It was total fun. “

I also heard from Sasha Blum, a top 10 masters finisher (2013 Club Nats in Bend, OR) who found that same kind of competitive spirit, as well as blessed relief from the roads. Lord knows she needs it. When I heard her speak at a roundtable the night before the race, she was introduced as a mother of five under the age of 8.

“Cross country is much easier on my body than road racing is,” she said to the group. Yet, there’s nothing easy about the races. It was at cross meets where she found the racing atmosphere she craved. “I love training with other runners on my team, and the pure competition of the race. There’s nothing else like it.”

Any type of racing that looks more like kids on an Easter egg hunt must be good for you.

So now is the time for you to try a cross country race– and here are three options to getting signed up.

  1. Pick up September 2015 issue of Runners World. In it, you’ll find a nationwide list of races that are coming up.   You will also find my feature article “Cross Country Romance,” about my experience running the 2014 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships.
  2. CLICK HERE for a list of events (primarily in the Northeast) pulled together by Essex Running. This also includes ultra and trail runs, so look closely at the race descriptions. Also, this fall’s race dates have not been put on the site yet, so you’ll have to pull up last year’s race info and dig around a little to find this year’s information. But come on, a little digging for dirt can yield gold.
  3. USA Track and Field hosts the biggest “grown-up” cross country meet of the year. This year, Club Nats is being held in San Francisco on December 12.   For details on the race and to register CLICK HERE.


PHOTOS from LVRR Facebook Page:  Jill Forsythe

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