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What Is Cross Country Running?
My own memories of cross country running are back in my old school days where we were taken out for cross country running sessions around the outside of the playing fields. And essentially this is what cross country running is all about... running off road. Admittedly running around the edge of playing fields wouldn't ever be described as the most exciting of routes but cross country running it is.
Most cross country courses will feature some hills and inclines and be pretty gruelling if the ground underfoot gets heavy and muddy, which often happens.
You'll generally find that cross country running is more challenging than road running due to the undulating nature of the running surfaces and also because of the likelihood of the ground underfoot digging up and becoming muddy. There's nothing more soul destroying than running through 2 inches of mud that clings to your feet like hot tar, especially when it's on already tired legs.
Cross country running requires a different training approach than that of traditional road running such a 10k or half marathon for example.
The main differences are that you definitely need to train on uneven and preferably muddy ground to replicate the effect that this type of running has on your legs.
Secondly you will need to work on the strength of your legs especially the hip flexors and quadriceps muscles as these have to work much harder in mud and thick grass or foliage.
Lastly you'll have to make sure you have done enough hill running training as this will be more often than not a popular feature of whichever cross country run you decide to take part in.
Another consideration is ankle strength, so exercises targeted at the lower legs, on the front and back of the calves are the best way of doing this. It is important that you have the strength and flexibility in the the muscles the support and stabilise the ankle joints.
If you intend to take part in cross county running instead of road running, you may well also need to invest in slightly different running shoes. You'll need firm support and extra deep grips on the sole of the shoe.
My own preference would be cross country running as these courses can take you through across some amazing scenery and this makes the terrain and challenge variable which leads to a much more enjoyable and challenging experience. However the majority of races you'll find are based on the roads as it's a far easier race to marshal and arrange. Very often the roads used will be closed for the duration of the race and it's just a case of speaking to the road department of your local council or authority.
Off road cross country running whilst being better for the competitor is far more challenging to map out, arrange with the appropriate land owner and police for both safety and competitive reasons.
If you've ever fancied giving it a try, a urge you to do so, but be warned if all you've ever done is road running, you'll be faced with a much greater challenge, so make sure your training has involved plenty of it beforehand.