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5 Tips for Becoming a Successful Cross Country Runner

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Jason was a six-year cross country and track runner, and was among the first to qualify for his state level races in school history.


Cross country is a sport that requires a lot of long-term discipline and dedication but can have great rewards if you commit and put your mind to it. I started running cross country when I was 12 and saw it to the end of high school. When I was in grade nine, we ranked last as a team in the region; three years later, we were the dominant team in the region with a large portion of our varsity team seeing this through from the beginning to the end.

We went through a lot of obstacles and a few lineup changes through the years, but the stars aligned and we went on to be the first state-qualifying cross country team in school history, a feat that no other team has done since the time of this article being written. I truly think if a team wants something bad enough, they can have it if they put in the time and effort. If you are an aspiring cross country runner or are in the middle of your time going through it, these tips can help you achieve success.


1. Train for the Season Long Before It Begins

If you have been involved with running, or any sport for that matter, it is a given that training before the season starts will give you a huge advantage over your competition, especially if you train right. Cross country starts in August usually, so that gives a whole summer for you to dedicate to running and training in hotter weather, which usually requires more energy and stamina. The question is, what is the ideal training schedule?

From a few years of trial and error, and from experience, I have found the ideal training routine should be running 3 to 5 miles for 6 days a week. No more than one day off, as all it takes to start losing shape is one day, but this day is dedicated to resting yourself. Too much running is just as bad as not enough.

Some will suggest running 80 miles a week, and if you are training for a marathon, that may be ideal, but this is specific to 5k races. Three to five miles a day I find is best because its long enough to build endurance, but not enough to wear you down from too much running.

Additionally to training on your own, it helps to have running mates with you, to give a common goal in mind. Running races during the summer also gives a huge advantage. I have found that their is being in shape for running, and being in shape for a race, two different feelings. Running a race once a week or every few weeks will help you be in the mind frame to race and get your body used to the racing intensity. Additionally, it helps you overcome the fears that naturally come about before a race. If you have been doing it all summer when the pressure was off, when the official season starts, you walk in confidently and most of the fears have gone away because you have already been doing it long before most others.


2. Take Care of Yourself Mentally, Physically, Emotionally, and Spiritually

Taking care of yourself is crucial in many ways. Diet, stretching, rest times, sleep, every aspect of your life can directly affect the running season for you. Most of these seem like common sense, but let me give some more specific examples. A wise coach once said to me to be a successful runner, you need to be prepared mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

To be prepared mentally means being in the right mindset, being dedicated to the cause. It is a law for any aspect in life, you can think your way to success. If your mind frame is focused on running, and succeeding at your goals, eventually you will see positive results with it.

Physically, goes back to the training schedule I described, additionally with having a nutritious diet and having adequate rest. Eating cheese cake at midnight and staying up until two a.m. is not a good way to set yourself up for success. Lots of protein, lots of healthy carbs, and 7 to 8 hours of rest a night is ideal.

Being prepared emotionally means not letting outside circumstances interfere with your performance. Boyfriend, girlfriend, friends, home life, school, work, everything that can play your emotions need to be left at the door when dealing with this sport. I know first hand being prepared emotionally is not something that can be turned on or off with the flick of a switch, so whatever you have to do to get your emotions under control, it needs to be done.

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Being prepared spiritually is however you make of that, whether its praying to God, being in tune with your surrounding, or whatever you believe in, it is just as important as the rest. All four of these aspects require just as much attention, and are essential to achieving the success you want as a runner.


3. Always Wear Long Pants for Running (Except for the Race)

This one might sound strange, but I think it is very effective. Running with pants for practices and warmups before the race, whether it is hot or cold out does make a huge difference. Reason being is your legs have to work twice as hard when being active, and when race day comes, it is a totally different feeling running with shorts, since you are not used to it. You feel as light as a feather and the intensity during a race is reduced because you naturally will feel good wearing shorts for running. It is a lot less restrictive on your body to wear shorts, so your performance will be much better without the extra weight in the race.

Practicing with this extra baggage helps condition yourself fasters and more so than in shorts. Many might disagree with me on this, or think this is ridiculous, but I guarantee you it will work. I spent most of my time running doing this and I firmly think it made a huge impact on my performance in a race.


4. Believe in Yourself

Above all, if you don't believe you can achieve success, statistically you probably will not achieve it. It goes for you individually, as a team, the coach, everyone involved. Winning is contagious, and if everyone believes they can win and follows the principles I stated before, winning is almost always a guarantee. Of course, naturally good runners help the cause, but the principles I stated are from the perspective of a team that no one believed would achieve anything and once we applied these, our successes came along with these.

Basically, if you can out believe the other teams, your success will come naturally. This might sound like common sense or the typical words everyone is used to hearing, but in this case it is very true. Many say they believe in themselves, but many do not follow up with that. Now this, doesn't mean you tell the world you are going to outdo the rest, but rather let it show in your actions and stay humble about it along the way.


5. Stay Focused

This has a lot to do with being prepared mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but let me give more specific examples of what I mean by staying focused. As a high school student, immense pressure is placed on a person during this time, whether its what will I do beyond high school, relationships, other interests, work, or anything else important to the person. All these I view as important, but the problem is in the key word, the future. The future has not happened yet, only the here and now, and if cross county is the here and now and it is important to you, this is what you should be focused on.

Something many might not realize until they are done with school, is that cross country, or any sport for that matter, is a legacy for you, especially if you have success. It will be apart of who you are for your entire life, and maybe even beyond that. Fortunately, I realized this my last year of school, and once I went in with the mindset that this is my last chance to make a huge impact with this, the success becomes inevitable, because you have cut off all the outside influences and focused on what you are doing presently. Again, this what you are doing currently, is a legacy for you.

If you place any sort of importance or goals for cross country, that should be your focus, you will learn the laws of success through life naturally by doing this. You will feel far more accomplished achieving your successes in this than what may or may not happen in the future. I'm not saying don't plan for your future, but don't let it consume your lifestyle. You are here now with running, and eventually the opportunity will pass, so make good on your goals that you can achieve now, otherwise you might regret it in the future. What does this have to do with success? It places your back against the wall because with this mindset, you will have no choice but to succeed.


Their you have it, a few tips on how to succeed with your goals for cross country. Of course, we all have different goals and levels of success we are looking for, but all these tips apply to every level of success, and not just cross country, but life too. Whether you are a runner yourself, or thinking about it, or a parent reading this on behalf of your son or daughter, know that if their is a certain amount of commitment to this, it will be one of your many legacies in life you will never forget. You only have so many chances to make this right, and grade school is only once, so if you have a certain goal you would like to achieve, now is the time to do it.

You will feel better in life knowing you accomplished your goals, or at least gave it your absolute best. This is not an overnight thing too. We did not achieve our success until my last year of high school. Five seasons have came and gone before we achieved this. I can promise you, if you apply all these principles I listed, and truly follow up on it, you will achieve the level of success within your abilities, and maybe even surprise yourself along the way.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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