For parents & athletes new to the sport of Cross Country, here are a few things we thought you might like to know.
CROSS COUNTRY BASICS
Cross country runners do not require allot of gear. What gear they need, however, is VITAL
The most important tool the runner has is his/her training shoes. Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two people are alike in which training shoe works best. If you have friends or family who tell you that a certain brand or model of running shoes is THE BEST, don't listen to them. That shoe may be THE BEST... for THEM, but it doesn't mean it's the best for you.
Several excellent stores are available that specialize in Running. Just like you wouldn't buy a sports car at WalMart, it's probably not an great idea to bargain shop and buy your running shoes from a retailer who doesn't know anything about running. Good running specialty stores know what to look for in how your feet are shaped, how your ankles and knees move and can suggest shoes that will be most likely to keep you running fast and injury free.
DO NOT buy running shoes based upon your favorite color or what you think it is RAD. Make sure they fit, feel good on your feet and by all means try both shoes on and walk around in them at the store. Good running stores will even let you go run a few strides in them.
The West Cross Country team will likely have a GEAR UP event, partnering with a good running shoe retailer prior to Cross Country season. During these events, the retailer usually gives us a team discount of 15% off so please keep this in mind as a way to save money.
Running shoes take a pounding. Each stride a runner takes, the shoes absorb a blow that equals 3-5 times their body weight. As a result, the soft foams that protect your body from this impact eventually break down and are no longer capable of absorbing the shock. Nagging aches and pains are a sign of failing shoes. This can happen as early as 300-500 miles into the life of a shoe. For a varsity athlete running 50 miles / week, one pair of training shoes likely will not last from the beginning of summer workouts till the end of the season. You have been warned.
Cross Country spikes can be purchased either at a running specialty store, at a big box sporting goods retailer or on line. Racing shoes for Cross Country provide the athlete with a competitive advantage. Typically, cross country spikes are light weight, are designed for optimal traction over soft uneven surfaces and put the runner's foot in a position to run fast on the balls of their feet.
You wouldn't send your son to the football field, or your daughter to the soccer pitch in sneakers for game day would you? Cross Country racing spikes are an important piece of equipment and are highly recommended.
Since you won't be running 50 miles a week in spikes, you don't need a biomechanics expert to evaluate you in the shoes. Just make sure they fit on the snug side; almost like a second skin.
WATCH / GPS
Running is all about time. Cross Country runners need to have a watch for practice as many or our runs are time based. Makes it very difficult to run a specified time run if you don't have a watch! Timex makes great running watches under $100. Several companies make GPS enabled watches that are fantastic training tools for runners. These tend to cost $300-$500. Nice to have but not a "must have" tool. Anything with a stopwatch function will work.
TRACKING YOUR TRAINING
Keeping a personal record of your daily training is an extraordinarily valuable tool for both you and your coaches. Being able to evaluate runs based upon the paces and distance run on known courses and specific workouts gives runners and the coaches feedback we need to help each athlete manage and fine tune our training. Having a personal history can be very motivating as a way to quantify progress that is won over the long term.
Because our team is large and many of our workouts are not able to be directly supervised, we highly encourage our athletes to log their runs using Garmin Connect. Runners who have Garmin GPS watches can upload/sync their runs just by enabling the Bluetooth mode on their phone and putting their watch close to the phone. Athletes without Garmin phones can manually create an entry in Garmin Connect. Very easy to do. Not sure how far or fast you ran? Ask a teammate with a smart watch.
Please join our Garmin group. Its called WFHSXC
You'll need to Connect to the group and make sure your security/privacy settings are set to "my connections and groups"
HOW CROSS COUNTRY WORKS
Cross country is a TEAM sport. The team score in a cross country race is determined by adding up the finishing places of the first 5 team members. The team with the lowest score wins and the lowest score possible in cross country is 15 points. 1st+2nd+3rd+4th+5th.
Unlike many sports, including track and field, the 5th best runner on the team is often the most important. You could have 4 great runners who finish in the top 4 places, but if your number 5 runner gets place #100, you will likely lose.
Cross country meets typically have VARSITY and JV races. Varsity races are limited to either 7 or 10 runners. These runners are the fastest on the team and are likely to be the older, more experienced runners. However, any athlete, 9th-12th grade may run VARSITY if they are fast enough. The remainder of a team's athletes compete in the JV race. Usually there are no limits to the number of athletes per team who can compete in a JV race. At most meets, everyone gets to race.
Every athlete may have an important impact on the outcome of the race, even if they don't place in the top 5 for their team. If runners number 6 and 7 from one team finish in front of the 5th runner for another team, that will push the other team's score higher. Everyone counts. By everyone, we mean EVERY ONE!
RACE DAY STRATEGY
Cross country races are almost always 5000 meters long, known as a 5K. 3.1 miles if you are measuring in your car. Terrain is grass, dirt, gravel, pavement, mud, etc
Runners "warm up" prior to the race by jogging slowly for 10-20 minutes. Immediately prior to the race, they do dynamic stretching and a few race pace "strides" of 50-70 yards. Pre race prep is necessary to get the heart, muscles, head and spirit ready for the start.
All of the distance running world records are set by athletes who have learned over decades that an "even pace" is the fastest way to race. Even pace means that each segment of the race is run at approximately the same speed. Although the pace remains constant, the perceived effort becomes more difficult as the race progresses.....feeling easy to start, working hard in the middle and finding out what you are made of at the end.
Cross country, however, almost never works this way. Because races usually have at least 40 athletes and often as many as 150, all starting at one time, the first quarter mile or more ends up being a drag race with the runners tearing off at a pace they cannot sustain for a full 5K. Imagine a battle scene from BRAVEHEART, minus the battle axes and kilts.
Going out too fast is the most common mistake that runners of all experience levels make. For every 30 seconds out too fast in the 1st half mile of a race versus an "even pace" tempo, a runner will likely finish the race 60 seconds slower than if he/she had run slower to start. Going out too fast will have a greater detrimental impact on newer, less aerobically mature athletes. New runners beware. Don't go out too fast.
Two huge disadvantages await XC runners who start too fast. They are likely to be passed by many runners in the last part of the race, which is hard psychologically, will have no finishing "kick" at the end of the race; forfeiting critical places that add up to team scores.
Our training is designed to teach athletes a sense of pace and prepare them to run smart, appropriately paced races.
In all forms of racing, it's not how you start, IT'S HOW YOU FINISH! The finishing 600M of a cross country race is where you learn about an athlete's heart, their character and how much they care about being part of the team's success. Our expectation is that West runners will fight their hearts out to the finish in every race, whether they are having their best day or their worst.
There is no shame in being out kicked by an athlete who is more genetically blessed with speed, but our coaching staff will be disappointed if we see West runners passed by someone who obviously just wanted it more at the finish. If we want team success, WEST athletes have to want it more. It is up to you. Do you want it?