Cross-country running is different from other forms of running because in this you’re not just competing with the competition, but it’s also a mental challenge in naturally varying terrains. You run over several surfaces – from grass to mud to asphalt to gravel to dirt. You encounter hills, streams, rivulets, sharp turns, logs and bridges which you would have to swiftly negotiate. Your pace and rhythm are constantly disrupted, making this one of the most challenging runs you might have ever undertaken.
However, with proper training even a gruelling cross-country run can be made enjoyable. It requires the same training principles that are used when preparing for road races or long track events, but along with that you will also need to incorporate aspects in your run to deal with terrain, elevation, and course changes that you will face. Learning how to tackle rhythm and pace breaks is what will get you ahead on the day of the race/run.
Be prepared with the right set of accessories and pair of shoes for your cross-country challenge. You will need to figure out how to maintain your hydration level, while not carrying a bulky backpack or a water bottle. Something like an hydration pack will definitely come in handy on a cross-country run.
Cross-country runs are seldom on flat land. Running uphill/downhill is what you need to master. Don’t rely on luck and finding flatland on the day of your run. Prepare yourself for running at an elevation. Soft mud, grass and dirt require additional energy to navigate, and this is what you will encounter on the day of your run. It is advisable that you incorporate trail running in your weekly runs and get accustomed to running on different surfaces.
The starting area of cross-country runs is usually a flatland in a clearance for several hundred meters. The first obstacle comes after this – hence it makes sense to start really fast and gain on other runners. Once you hit an obstacle, your pace and rhythm will be altered.
The above point can be expanded to – if you’re at the end of the race, know that each obstacle you encounter will slow you more than the runners ahead – this is similar to being at the back of a traffic jam; the further back you are, the longer it takes to get out of it. Runners ahead of you will take their personal time to negotiate an obstacle, delaying you further.
Remember – there is ebb and flow in a race, so your effort is key. Every time your effort is thwarted, work back towards it calmly. These are challenging races and patience is key. Staying patient and alert to your surroundings is one of the keys to running efficiently. At the same time, a calm and relaxed mental state would allow you to be more agile in dealing with undulations or changes in surface.