We’ve talked about being a real runner; all you have to do is race. But now, we’re gonna talk about how to become a REAL runner. Not just someone who laces up shoes and enters a race, but a REAL, hard core, old time, runner.

It’s simple (but definitely not easy):

Run a cross-country race. 

Better yet, be a part of a team. Get out there in the crisp autumn air, or maybe the cold, rainy, autumn air. Whatever the weather (in XC it doesn’t matter). Just try a race and you’ll be hooked.

image from http://ancientolympics.arts.kuleuven.be/

Cross-Country is the purest form of racing. The very first Olympics in 776 BC had one event, a race along a river. It was only about 200 meters long, but it was along a river, on the ground that the gods put there for the Ancient Greeks to use. 

Back in the day, when the church was the main social gathering place, people would have running races from one church to another (hence- steeplechase because churches have steeples) over whatever terrain was available. Over stone fences, through creeks, but rarely on roads (and the roads were basically dirt anyway unless you were somewhere where Rome had conquered and they were cobblestone).

According to English writers Montague Sherman and F.A.M. Webster cross-country took its organized form in England in the late 1800’s. They called the races “Paper-Chases” or cross-country steeplechases. Here’s how it worked:

A couple of runners called “hares” (hence the term harrier) would set out on a run and lay strips of cloth for the pack of runners, called hounds, to follow. The idea was that the first hound to catch the hare won! I got all that information from a book titled Cross-Country Running, by Marc Bloom 1978. 

image from http://www.artofmanliness.com/


So, now you know how the competitive aspect of the sport of running began, so go out and do it. Cross-country races are hard to find but we are lucky enough to have Confluence Running who not only can find you races but can provide an opportunity for you to be a part of a team. That is one part of running that most people who started running as adults never experienced.

Team pre-race huddles, post-race pictures, maybe even a uniform all make the painful  XC race worth it. I realize that some people are apprehensive about it but cross-country runners are the most supportive group out there. Get some friends (you only need five runners and extra are always welcome) and sign up for a race. If you REALLY want to have fun get a pair of spikes, but they certainly aren't required. Run over natural terrain, up and down hills, through a forest or nature preserve. It doesn't have the technical nature of trail runs. The idea isn’t to slow you down but to give you a natural challenge and a break from the same old 5K road race or the time consuming half-marathon and marathon training programs. 

I guarantee you’ll love it, “That was fun!” is a common post-race exclamation. You’ll also develop a very real respect for all those teenagers out there in the most popular high school sport in the nation. You’ll understand and appreciate what they go through every week. You’ll feel like a kid again when you run through the mud and come back in a condition where you can actually take a shower with your clothes ON! There was once a local high school race where it was so muddy they had to hose down the hallways of the school where the runners gathered after their races!

Check out www.SouthernTierCrossCountry.com for the STXC Series, form a team, and have some fun!

Thanks and thanks to Marc Bloom for a book I’ve read and re-read countless times. Oh, and thanks to my teammates for getting me through my first cross-country race in 30 years!

About the Author:
Michael Cordi has been a dedicated track and cross country coach for years, as well as an active and enthusiastic member of the running community in Binghamton, NY.


September 26, 2019 — Matthew Gawors

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