Strategies for Running Cross Country – Part 1

Preparing to run any race is always a vital part of the whole scenario, especially long races such as cross country, as this tends to be when most tactics come into play. The physical side of the preparation needs to be matched with the mental one, and once your body and mind have been brought up to the required level, it is now time to turn to tactics. In this blog we look at the most tactical parts of running a cross country race and what strategies you should put in place to give yourself a winning chance.

Spike Selection

Cross country racing takes you over many different types of terrain so it is vital that you have enough grip underfoot. If you are serious about cross country then you have to invest in a pair of specialized sports shoes, preferably with spikes.

This type of shoe is more robust than normal track spikes and it affords better grip and traction which is important in cross country running. Your length of spike depends mainly on conditions and the choice is generally between 9mm – 15mm, buy a selection and always carry them in your bag. Once you have walked the course you can select the most suitable length.

Walk the Course

It might seem obvious but always arrive early for your race and walk around the course, this is not as time consuming as it sounds as most cross-country races are simply laps of the same course. Know the pitfalls and the parts of the course that could lead to crowding and jostling, be prepared so you know exactly what is ahead. Once you have walked the course you can select what spikes to use, parts of the course may differ slightly, but just pick the length of spikes that would suit most of the terrain.

Know the Best Start Line Position

Some races will dictate where your team or you start the race, but if you have the option in selecting your own starting place, then select carefully. You have already walked the course and so you know what is coming up in the first few hundred yards.

If there is a sharp bend soon after the start then you will not want to get boxed in, so opt for a starting position a little wider away from the crowd. Select a starting position where you will get the clearest run and so you will not be hampered.

Be Prepared for a Flying Start

A great deal of cross country races start with a bun fight at the start, where athletes jostle and push for the best position. When this initial effervescence settles down the runners slow down to a normal pace. However, this frantic start can play games with the physiology on the body and often the price to be paid is in the latter parts of the race.

Prepare in training for a hectic start, try some sprints off the line, get your body used to an explosive start so that it is prepared and ready. These sprints will help your lactate levels to rise, but your body will be expecting this when it comes to race day. In part two we look at other aspects of your cross-country preparation including specific training and how to protect your footwear.