Coach Mike Mead

September 2012

The Merits of Cross Country Running

With summer winding down and autumn just around the corner brings a different variety of competitive running that mostly is found at the high school and collegiate level and that is cross country. If you did not participate in high school or college cross country, then you missed a unique experience.

The challenge for those running cross country is that unlike most footraces, it isn’t about time but all about place and the importance of team. If you try to focus too much about time, you can be disappointed.

The main reason is how a cross country meet is scored. If you’re the first person across the finish line, your team gets one point. If you finish 10th, that’s 10 points for your team. A team consists of a minimum of five runners who score for the team and the lowest team score wins. A perfect score requires a team’s Top 5 runners to sweep the first five places for a score of 15 points.

There is a little strategy in cross country when it comes to teams who have more than five runners. A team’s sixth and seventh finishers don’t figure in the team score, but affect another team’s score. Say Team A’s No. 6 runner places ahead of Team B’s No. 4 runner, that adds more points to Team B’s final score.

Added to the cross country experience is the uniqueness of each course which are different in topography and scenery. A flat course is going to produce faster finish times than a hilly course, or a course water-logged after a heavy rain. While most courses attempt to be accurate in distance, they might not be the exact distance each time.

Cross country at the collegiate level is considered an “individual sport” in that individuals can make it to championships without relying on teammates. However, the team concept is what makes the sport special for those who grind it out with the summer training and come together during the season to collectively train and race for a common goal.

What makes the experience special is the camaraderie and the close bond that good teammates can build that make for life-long friends. You can be an individual in cross country, but you will not flourish without your teammates. The enjoyment I got from cross country was the team work and the common goal to do well in a particular meet or dedicate the year working as a group to win a championship or advance to the highest-level (state or nationals) of competition possible.

The most fun was the journey – the daily grind of practice, travel and competition. You can shine as an individual in the sport of cross country, but it’s the team experience that makes the sport. You don’t get the same experience doing road races. It’s not the same unless there is a team event. The closest experience outside of cross country that I have found has been doing events like the “Hood-to-Coast” relay.

I’m beginning my 18th season coaching cross country this month. Factor in the eight years of competing as a high school and college athlete and I’ve learned a thing or two about the sport. I truly enjoy the bonds that are built and the fond memories I’ve had as a runner and coach.

If you have never experienced cross country, you need to go to a meet or two as a spectator to appreciate the team work that is exhibited. There are plenty of high schools meets that are run on a weekly basis.

Hopefully you’ll get hooked and will seek out a cross country event that YOU can compete in. Perhaps you can round up some of your running buddies and get in a true running battle since there is no “I” in team!