5 tips to help you prepare for a cross country race

By Lucas Zanetti, Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa

The big day is coming up. You’ve put in the training and now you want to make sure you do everything you can to best prepare for your cross country race. Whether this is your first cross country race or you’re a seasoned pro, cross country racing is a tough and unique experience. Here are 5 tips to help you crush your next XC race!

  • Know the course

Like any road race, you should always check the course map to learn important details such as the start and finish locations, where the hills are and where any junctions are. The best way to learn the course is to run it or walk it the day before, or the day of your race. This step is especially important for cross country races since every course is unique, from its layout to its terrain, and usually has distinct sections that pose different challenges. Knowing the course well will give you an edge!

  • Train on similar terrain

Once you know your course, a good way to prepare is to simulate aspects of the course into your training runs. If the course has mud or sand sections, try to find mud and sand on your runs. If the course has narrow trails, find some of those on your runs. If the course has mostly rollings or if there are just a few large hills, don’t be afraid to find similar hills to train on! Simulating the course in your training will help you feel more prepared on race day.

  • Get your outfit ready beforehand

Your cross country race outfit can make a big difference to your performance, and you don’t want to stress out on the day of trying to figure out what to wear. Since cross country races can often be cold, you may want to wear tights or extra layers. When it comes to shoes, you’ll want to choose the best shoes for the terrain. If it’s a muddy or wet course, the best shoes would be cross country spikes with pins at 9mm to 15mm depending on how bad the course is. Whatever you decide to wear, be sure that you’re comfortable with running a hard effort in them!

  • Focus on your effort rather than worrying about your pace

Most runners go into a race with a time goal, and look at their watch a lot in the race. In cross country however, this can be detrimental to your race! Cross country courses are all different and variables such as terrain, layout, off-distances (such as 6k or 8k), hills, and weather conditions can have a huge impact on not only the finishing time, but also the kilometre splits. A good tip is to turn off that auto-lap on your watch and focus on your effort! Try to stick with people around you and give it your all!

  • Crest the hills

The final tip is on how to attack the hills in your race. Hills are a big part of cross country and can make or break your race sometimes. Many people ease off as they near the top of the hills as they’ve gone too hard in the early parts. A good tip for running hills is to crest them. This means starting the hill conservatively, and as you reach the top, you want to focus on not slowing down over the top. You want to carry that speed over the crest of the hill which will give you momentum into the downhill. Try not to lean back and put on the brakes when you start going downhill and instead, don’t be afraid to lean forward and take big strides down the hill. This can give you a big advantage over others who went too hard too early on the hill!

Now you have some good tips for a cross country race — register for Run Ottawa’s Frost Country 6K, part of Athletics Canada’s Canadian Cross Country Championships being held in Ottawa on Saturday, November 25th! Sign-up now!