What to Expect at Cross Country Practice

High school cross-country competitors
David Madison/Photolibrary/Getty

Back to school also means the start of cross-country running season for middle school, high school, and college runners. Although some cross country runners have been running for years, you may be one of those runners who just joined the team for the first time. If you're feeling a little nervous about getting started, here are some tips for beginner runners (whether you're on a team or not):

1. Get the right running shoes.

Wearing the right running shoes is the key to comfort and injury prevention. Don't just get the same running shoes that one of your teammates is wearing. Visit a running specialty store to get fitted for the right running shoes for your foot type and running style. Also, make sure you don't run in worn-out running shoes - they should be replaced every 300-400 miles. So even if you love your current running shoes, it may be time for a new pair.

2. Don't eat immediately before you start running.

But do make sure you eat something light, like a granola bar or apple slices with peanut butter, about 90 minutes to two hours before practice starts. This will make sure you have enough fuel to get you through your workout. If you have practice after school, make sure you have some healthy snacks packed in your backpack, so you can fuel up quickly when you have the chance.

3. Don't stretch before your run.

You could risk pulling a muscle if you try to stretch cold muscles. If your muscles aren't warmed-up before you stretch, you're more at risk for pulling them. Do a short warm-up such as an easy 5-10 minute jog or some warm-up exercises before you stretch, or wait until after you're done running to stretch. When you're ready to stretch, here are some good stretches for runners.

4. Breathe through your mouth.

Your muscles need oxygen to keep moving and your nose simply can't deliver enough. Make sure you're breathing more from your diaphragm, or belly, not from your chest -- that's too shallow. Deep belly breathing allows you to take in more air, which can also help prevent side stitches.

5. Be patient.

Your first couple of weeks of practice may be difficult and you may feel like others on the team are much stronger and faster than you. Try not to compare yourself to other runners. Instead, track your own progress and notice how you get stronger as you continue training.

6. Be prepared for trail running.

Cross country runners often do some trail running, both in practice and during meets. If you've never run on trail before, get familiar with some tips for trail running so you know what to expect and how to stay safe.

7. Don't overtrain.

Be careful not to overdo it. As many runners have learned through trial and error, making big jumps in your mileage can lead you straight to an overuse injury. Play it safe and don't increase your overall mileage by more than 10% each week. If you feel yourself getting run down, take a day off and rest.


Was this page helpful?