Cross-country training is extremely popular in several parts of the world – particularly in the high school and college athletics circuit. Many young cross-country champs have gone on to become renowned professional runners, the early training and commitment doing wonders for their running goals in the long term. As a sport, cross country takes runners off the track and road and into a variety of terrains – grass, trails, mud tracks and mountains – thus getting them used to a diverse range of challenges and weather conditions. It is also known for building team spirit, camaraderie and confidence – qualities that go a long way during ultras and other trail running events.

If you’ve decided to give cross-country running a shot, the next step is to pick out some gear that assists you through the training. While most of your road running gear will work here, it can be useful to invest in shoes that provide support, traction, and extra protection so you can run tough trails with ease. Here are a few things to keep in mind while choosing cross-country running footwear.

Train or race?
Most serious athletes usually invest in two pairs of shoes – one to take on the challenges of training and another for race days. The former is designed to be lightweight but well-cushioned so as to protect your feet against errant rocks, pebbles or harsher trails. Racing shoes are more minimal and often have spikes for better grip – these are designed to maximize your performance and keep you light on your feet. If you’re not planning on racing any time soon, stick to a pair of comfortable, supportive shoes that allow you to train under various conditions. Do not take your spikes out for practice, as these tend to wear out faster and are also incapable of providing adequate support against injuries.

Injury prevention
As your feet get used to the new terrains, you need the traditional support and cushioning provided by good training shoes for long-distance, high intensity workouts. These help prevent common running injuries like shin splints, IT band problems and Runner’s Knee. If your present running shoes are in good condition, then try them out at practice before rushing for a new pair. It’s best to visit a shoe specialty store and get some expert advice on shoes that can absorb maximum shocks on the trail. Focus on flexibility, fit and try on several pairs before going with the one that suits you best. Sturdy trail running shoes also make great alternatives for cross country training gear.

Consider the various surfaces on offer when going cross country and train accordingly (Image: CHSAANow)
Consider the various surfaces on offer when going cross country and train accordingly (Image: CHSAANow)

Designed for speed
Though they are minimal and lightweight, cross-country racing shoes feature aggressive treading at the bottom with excellent grip on different surfaces. The lighter material also increases breathability and adds barely any weight to your runs. Consequently, they can help you achieve better cadence during your runs and also lead to faster striding. Most cross training shoes are one-third the weight of training gear and you’ll feel this difference very noticeably on race day as you fly faster with less or no resistance.

Cross-country running shoes are specifically designed for the surface and conditions (Nike)
Cross-country running shoes are specifically designed for the surface and conditions (Nike)

Surface watch
Cross-country racing shoes are available in both spiked and flat varieties, the latter being more beneficial on harder surfaces such as dried dirt, hard soil or concrete. Shoes with spikes, on the other hand, offer great grip for short bursts of speed running on loose, gravel trails, and soft mud and dirt roads. They will, however, wear out faster on hard trails, so keep them for designated races, or pick out a shoe with detachable spikes to get the best of both worlds. Anticipating the kind of surface you’ll eventually be running on is your first step towards acquiring a pair of shoes that’ll stick with you for several memorable races.

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