Cross-country is an event that many consider a race for elementary or high-school-aged kids. Some runners stick it out and trudge through the mud in their university years, but most retire their singlets come high school.

If you’ve taken up running later in life or haven’t run cross-country in a long time, here’s why you should consider it as a part of your fall training plan.

NCAA Cross-Country Results
Photo: UNM Lobos

It’s a team sport

Cross-country is a nice intersection between an individual and a team sport. In a cross-country race you can run as an individual or you can enter as a team, but regardless of how you enter you still receive an individual placing. Entering as a team is a great way to motivate yourself throughout the race and celebrate together afterwards.

The training happens on soft surfaces

Cross-country is essentially a milder version of trail running. Cross-country races are exclusively run on soft surfaces, so that’s also where the training happens. Running on a softer surface can take the load off your body and help keep you healthy throughout an entire race season.

RELATED: The best surface to run on

Canadian Cross-Country Championships Photos
Photo: Canadian Running

It’s great hill training

Hill training is great for a runner’s speed and strength, and it’s also a big part of training for cross-country. By incorporating hills into your weekly workout routine, you’re working slightly different muscles and systems than you’re accustomed to working on flatter routes.

It’s a low-key race experience

Cross-country races are relaxed and have a really fun race environment. When you’re in the middle of a windy field, covered in mud and on a start line with a couple of hundred other muddy people, it’s hard to take it too seriously.

If you haven’t raced in a while or have never raced before, running an XC event can be a great way to ease yourself into competition ahead of a big road race.

It’s really muddy

Cross-country is kind of like playing in the mud. For example, there’s an entire cheering section devoted to watching people wipe out due to muddy conditions in Kingston, Ont., where the national championships have been hosted several times.

It’s a manageable race distance

Training for a cross-country race isn’t like training for a marathon. The distances typically range between 5K and 10K, so you can be ready to race with just a few weeks of good training.

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