If this were a game of word association, cross country would surface a painful history of muddy high school PE kits, contentious gym teaches and lashes of rain. Juvenile gym neurosis is no reason to not try cross country once again. It’s the complete challenge of the road, the elements and the mind that makes it an all-encompassing running discipline for the ultimate challenge. But for this very reason, it can be a very daunting challenge to undertake. Starting cross country running might seem a tall order but, with our tips, we’ll make you question why you haven’t done it sooner.
Here’s our top tips on how to get started with cross country running:
Take your time with cross country running
When you take your first steps into cross country running it’s important to take your time. A mile over the mud is much more tiring than that over the tarmac. It’s demanding more of your body that it wouldn’t be used to if up until now you’ve only been a strict road runner. If you get home and a 5-mile session took an extra 25 minutes, don’t be discouraged.
Join a cross country running club
Joining a local cross country running club is a great way to get into any discipline of running. Running with a group of friends helps ease any doubts or apprehensions you might have about getting your run on. Running with a group or training partner can also make the run feel easier letting you focus more on your technique, learn from experienced members or just mingle.
Use running apps
The app store is full of great running apps. Not only are they a great way to monitor your runs, distances, splits and other useful information compiled during your run, but it’s a great place to share advice, routes and provide a competitive edge.
Proceed with caution! Don’t get too caught up with the numbers. The information is there for you to look back over and plan how to better yourself but remember, your body is your best feed of information. Take care and listen to what your body is telling you. This is far more useful than knowing the energy you waste with every stride when you’re just finding your feet and starting cross country running.
Know that cross country running is not about the speed
Once you’ve become more accustomed to cross country running you can begin to take more notice of your times. When you’re starting cross country running, it’s not all about your split times and average pace. As a cross-country runner, you need to be honest to yourself but tactful too. Keeping a gauge of your effort rather than speed is much more effective when you’re starting out. If you think you can give an extra 5% up that hill then do it, if you’re out of gas and want to cruise but your road running doppelganger is telling you to give it 100%, ignore your evil twin. Listen to your body but make conservative decisions on how much to give, how hard to go and when to breathe easy.
Get the right footwear
It’s important you’ve got decent footwear to give you grip and stability. Unkempt tracks provide challenges for your mind and body. Take away some of the worries with a decent sturdy pair of trainers. It might also be worth trying out GAIT analysis. This will ensure you not only have the comfiest trainers but the safest and most supportive trainers you can get for your running style.
Make sure you’re incorporating strength and balance exercises
When you’re starting cross country running it might be a good idea to give yourself a head start. Incorporating strength and balance exercises into your week won’t only make your stronger, but will also help relieve the stress road running has on the body.
Using balance balls, ab rollers and compound exercises like squatting are all great means to improve your balance and strength. Combining both balance and strength exercises will give you the most bang for your buck so perhaps try pistol squats for the most benefit.
Rest as often as you run
Like we mentioned, when you’re starting cross country running, easing into it is our top tip. An easy way to make sure you’re not over-training is to have a day’s rest for every day you run. If you’re running on the road twice a week and over country once, ensure you have at least three days’ rest.
What are the best running backpacks for cross country running?
It’s important when you’re going for a long run, particularly cross country running, that you have a running backpack that can hold everything you need to take with you. From water, energy drinks and snacks, to money, toilet paper (it’s better to be prepared) and sweat bands. We’ve picked out some of the best running backpacks on the market…
Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 5 Set – £130
Lightweight and easy to wear, this running backpack can hold up to 5L, comes in three colours (red, black and blue) and comes with a soft flask – although this backpack can hold two water bottles and has plenty of space for all of your gear.
Lululemon Run All Day Backpack II – £98
Designed for long-distance running, hiking and long walks, this running backpack has a molded back panel, waistband straps, gel pockets and even a mobile phone pocket. The fabric also contains reflective detailing too so that you can be seen in the dark. The 13L backpack comes in black and incognito camo multi grey/black.
Innov8 All Terrain Pro Vest Running Pack – £103.99
This stripped-back vest is perfect for those who want to go for a nice long run or prefer to compete in long-distance runs. The 15L pack is made up of two front straps and two additional straps on each side allowing the backpack to be customised to your body, ensuring that it doesn’t move about when running.
Karrimor X Lite 15L Running Backpack – £39.99
This 15L backpack consists of a large main compartment along with zip and open mesh pockets to keep your valuables separate and safe. Made with ventilated shoulder straps and a padded back with a wind tunnel ventilation system, this back oozes comfort for your long runs.