Whether you’re into fitness, weight loss or even competition, cross-country running is one of the best, easiest and cheapest ways to take your regime to the next level. All you really need is a pair of running shoes, and you’re all set to make your mark on the sport. However, as with any new activity, there are right and wrong ways to go about it for the first time. In this feature, we’re going to take a closer look at how best to get involved for the first time, covering equipment, attitude and everything else it takes to make a success of it.
1. Start with Your Choice of Spikes
We already mentioned the fact that all you need is a pair of running shoes as one of the best things about cross country running as a hobby. Given how little you really need to do to get started, it makes sense to put a bit of time and effort into making the right selection. Your grip on a variety of relatively soft surfaces matters more than just about anything else, as one wrong move can have you off the track and nursing bruises or even broken bones in no time.
If you have an old pair of spikes lying around, we have to admit that they might do the job. However, if they are track spikes, you might want to invest in some specialist cross country alternatives, which are designed for more grip and can handle more wear and tear. The softer the courses you intend to run, the longer you’ll want your spikes to be. Think about the surfaces of tracks and routes near you, and consider what the weather tends to do in running season – you’ll need longer spikes on muddy courses than on pristine grass ones.
2. Get to Know the Course Before You Run
Cross country running is different to going out for a jog, and the chances are that many of your efforts will focus on specific courses that were designed with running in mind. Tackling a course for the first time can be daunting for all sorts of reasons, and any proverbial head start you can get is a welcome one. If you’ve arranged to run somewhere, see if you can go there ahead of time to check out the course and anything you might not expect. This could be as soon as just before the race. Anything that means you’re not solely reliant on following those ahead of you is a good thing in this case.
3. Think About Where to Start
There are two different ways in which cross country races start. In the first case, you as an individual, or your team as a whole, will be assigned a starting position on the line. In these cases, it’s best not to overthink it – a bit of strategy is fine but the start is out of your control. However, if you’re able to position yourself as you see fit, think about where might be the most advantageous. Having already walked the course in tip 2, you’ll know of any sharp bends or narrow passages and can line up accordingly.
4. Reserve a Burst of Speed for the Start
Following on from the third tip, remember that you may have to go faster than usual when the race begins. Starts are often chaotic and everyone is jostling for position – especially those that couldn’t position themselves as they might have hoped. Try to stay ahead of the pack at this time to give yourself room to manoeuvre later on and rest assured that you won’t have to keep this breakneck pace up for long.
5. Train According to Races
While this may sound obvious, even some competitive runners opt for general training and conditioning. However, they would almost certainly benefit from more specific training. Indeed, the more you can emulate the length and conditions of an upcoming race, the more likely your efforts are to pay off going forward.
6. Never Trust Your Laces
If you’ve never worn running spikes before, there’s a chance that you have never needed anything more than laces to keep your shoes on your feet. However, cross country is different and boggy conditions can lead to losing a shoe. In turn, that can mean losing places or ending a race altogether. Consider backing up your laces with tape or another means of fixing your shoes in place, so you’re not knocked out by something outside your control.
7. Don’t Neglect the Warmup
Even highly trained bodies are not designed to go from 0 to 100 in a few seconds flat, so make time to limber up and get ready for the race before you push yourself. A good warmup need not be hard, and you should focus on finding firm, flat ground to get yourself in the mood without overexerting before the race has even begun.
8. Winning Isn’t Everything
We’ve compiled these tips with beginners in mind, and it is essential to remember that you haven’t failed if you don’t come first. No matter your goals, you should be content with having made your best effort rather than where you finished. You’ll get better with time – many of your competitors have been doing this for much longer than you have and you’ll catch up before long.
9. Gain Ground on Hills
Some runners make the mistake of taking it easy as they ascend hills. They figure that they’re almost expected to go slower as that’s likely anyway. However, you can gain ground here, and any additional effort spent on the ascent is never wasted. It is hard work, but excellent training for the future and an ideal opportunity to noticeably improve your placement.
10. Remember Items for Around the Race
The race itself is the main event, but you want to remain in good condition for the whole event. If rain is likely, ensure you have appropriate clothing for before and after you run. Have somewhere to store your used gear afterwards so that you don’t get your transport dirty, and do everything you can to enjoy yourself!