Cross country running appeals to many athletes thanks to its intense training out of doors. It takes runners on a journey of challenges, including maintaining flow over all kinds of terrain, including grass, mud, gravel and everything else you can think of. Throw in steep hills, bridges and sharp turns and it’s clear that long distance and trail running isn’t for the casual exerciser.
While the majority of long-distance running is dictated by pace, cross-country running focuses more on the effort needed. Mile splits aren’t given the same focus as in road racing, as maintaining pace over different ground is often impossible. Therefore, the main training goal is to learn how to maintain steady effort rather than pace.
How does cross-country training differ?
Cross-country courses are designed to disrupt the runner’s stride and pace. Obstacles are thrown in the path of the participants, which will throw them off their stride, no matter how fit they are.
Teaching your body to maintain a steady effort is the key to training effectively for cross country running. Successful training still includes the same basic guidelines used by road runners, and runners for long track events. This means plenty of long runs, practicing tempo runs, and including lost of long and short intervals during training runs. In between all of this, you should include plenty of maintenance and recovery runs.
On top of this basic training, cross country runners must also incorporate elevation, terrain and course changes. The idea is to accurately copy what you will be up against when it comes to the actual course on race day. By including regular rhythm breakers into your training, you will be better equipped to maintain the requisite effort during the race itself.
Learn the course
If possible, you should try and see the course before race day. That way you can incorporate the real obstacles of the course into your training. Duplicating the challenges that will be thrown at you on race day will help you train at the right pace and give you the best chance possible of maintaining your form on the day.
While it’s possible the cross-country course will be flat, this is unlikely. Most will include plenty of hills, as they take place in parks and golf courses, where there are plenty of different elevations to tackle. Training to be proficient at running up and down is the best way to get a faster time.
You should also include strategies for running on different surfaces in your training. Running on uneven ground, soft dirt, wet mud and thick grass, all need different amounts of energy and technique to traverse. For example, you need higher knee lift and more energy to maintain your form on uneven ground. Plenty of practise training on all of these different surfaces will stand you in good stead for race day.
Train outside using trails and rough terrain
A good rule of thumb is to spend half of all of your training runs on trails, rather than in the gym. This gets you into the rhythm of chopping and changing your style as you come across obstacles. Trail running also helps you to learn how to take note of how and where your foot is striking the ground.
You need superior muscle strength for effective cross country running, and you should also include power workouts in your regime. Focus on your lower legs, hip flexors and your core in particular.
Prepare for everything a race can throw at you, and you will be able to run the course while maintaining form and, hopefully, smashing your time.
About Surya Gabriel Iacono
Surya G. Iacono is a fitness and wellness expert and blogger based in London, UK. Surya’s fitness blogs are aimed at keen gym-goers and exercise fans already well into their journey and looking for tips, tricks and ideas to take it to the next level.