In Praise of Cross Country

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Cross Country season is here! The meeting place of the best distance runners on the planet, cross country is a fall sport in the U.S. and a winter and spring sport around the rest of the world. In this column, the blogger takes aim at his favorite season, cross country and what it means to him....

Cross Country, the real primal sport

About now, 30,000 coaches around the U.S. are getting the cross country yearbook from American Track & Field. It is a fun project, where we work with Walt Murphy and Sean Hartnett and Victah Sailer to give our cross country fans a glimpse of last season and some tips on how to run this cross country season well.

Cross Country is one of my favorite seasons. I used to love competing in cross country and training for it. The Fall gave us some fun and challenging races from 8k to 12 kilometers after I finished college. My favorite still is Nisene Marks 12 kilometer, held in September and across a few creeks. The course had some gnarly hills, but also some really tough creek crossings. There was no such place as a flat and level piece of ground on the entire course.

Dusty and soaked from the knees down, I would remember speaking to the other nut cases aftewards and just sharing the time well spent. I would hunt for races like that, the ones that challenged the soul, the ones that had hills that required hand over hand and the ones that had your heart climbing out of your ears, they were so tough. Times did not really matter, what mattered was the conquest of the course.

For some reason, I liked hills. They allowed me to relax and focus on the task at hand. If a marathon had hills, I did better, if a shorter race had hills, I did better, it was probably just all in my head.

But cross country. Something about running as the seasons were changing, and the dirt became mud and the mud was worn as a badge of pride, a badge of honor after a race well run.

Cross country season is in full swing now. Most high schools have finished league champs and are now on conference champs and moving towards the sectionals. The kids who were not in shape early on are coming around and the kids who were in shape in the early Fall are starting to drag.

Cross country is all about running and reacting to nature. Whether on a golf course ( I hated those courses) or in a great park, cross country reaches out, grabs your lungs and says, find your lungs at the end of the course, friend, because, for the next half hour, you are going to find that there is nothing between you and your racing shoes but the hills, mud and dust on this course.

If you do not think cross country is part of the way a world class distance runner develops. consider this. Bill Rodgers, Dave Bedford, Frank Shorter, Ian Stewart, Steve Prefontaine, Pat Porter, Craig Virgin, Kenenisa Bekele, Sonia 0'Sullivan, Lynn Jennings,
Tirunesh Dibaba, Meseret Defar, Kara Goucher, Paula Radcliffe, all ran cross country as part of their programs. Many were excellent cross country runners, but the xc added to their development as GREAT distance runners!

As Lynn Jennings said many years ago, " Become One with the Mud."

For more on cross country, check search at

1 Comment | Leave a comment


Your comments on cross country ring so true. This weekend we had blue skies and crisp Fall temps. Smelling the wet soil and the leaves never fails to make my heart pump faster. Cross country season!
Hans (Clemson '83)

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