I Ran Cross Country for the First Time at Age 30
I was not one of the privileged runners who got their start in high school or college cross country or track. Instead, I came to running later in life and could neither relate nor understand my fellow runners (or former runners) who groaned about their school cross country experiences. Over time, I developed a twinge of jealousy for these runners; they often have beautiful form, can run effortlessly without music, and have the luxury of a big, strong running foundation. I had none of these things as an inexperienced beginner who started running in adulthood. And worse, I never got to experience the fun of high school or college team running.
But this year, I joined a track club and decided to chase down my teenage dreams: I registered to run a series of club cross country races, my first ever, at age 30! It was a humbling pursuit, to be sure, but I came away a stronger, smarter runner and had a lot of fun, too!
3 Things I Learned About Running Cross Country
Here are three things I learned about running cross country as an adult:
1. Cross Country is More than Just Running on Grass
I knew next to nothing about running cross country before showing up for my first race this fall. The one thing I did know? We would be running on grass…..or so I thought! Cross country races take place in parks or fields and often include hills, rocks, roots, whoop de doos, and a few hay bales for good measure. Plus, there’s always the surprise factor of weather – a rainy, wet day results in a sloppy, slippery course while a below-freezing, clear day results in knobby, uneven terrain. A flat run in a grassy field, most cross country races are not!
2. Ignore Time and Pace
As a recreational road runner, running on uneven terrain and grass was something I never did or thought about, so it was quite a surprise when I looked at my pace in the middle of my first race. I was running as hard and fast as I could, but the watch read a pace closer to my marathon pace – what gives!? It turns out running cross country is more akin to trail running than it is road running, so do yourself a favor and ignore time and pace. Don’t try to compare your cross country paces to your road race paces or even your cross country race times to other cross country race times! Cross Country courses vary significantly and can result in a wide range of finish times and paces. (Psst….focus on running on effort instead.)
3. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
I’ve long regretted missing out on high school cross country and the team running experience. The training partners, the spaghetti dinners, the team wins, losses, and achievements; I wanted them all. While not quite the full high school experience, running cross country races gave me the experience of running, competing, and scoring with a team. For the first time, I learned how to stick with a teammate when the race got tough, carry a teammate when the race got tough for them, and celebrate a team victory (in our case, placing 4th in a regional championship meet!). I can confidently say that the old adage is true: teamwork really does make the dream work!
Try Cross Country Running!
I had a blast running my first cross country races and can’t wait to do it again next fall. If, like me, you missed out on the school cross country running experience, there’s still time to give it a try! In the Twin Cities, Off-Road Run Series presented by USATF Minnesota puts on a series of cross country races each fall. Good luck!
*Cross Country Race Photo Credit: Angela Lindbo