T-minus one week until the first race of cross country season. It’s the sport I love to hate. What is cross country and how does it differ from other types of distance running? On the face of it, it really shouldn’t be all that much different than the road races I enjoy. For women, it’s a 6k course, generally on natural terrain – grass, gravel, dirt – usually in a park-like setting. Sounds nice, right? It’s short, so theoretically it doesn’t require a whole lot of suffering. It’s also scored as a team sport, where your individual place determines the number of points you earn. The lower numerical value of the team score, the better. It’s like golf, just a little less frustrating.
It’s this team aspect that brings me back for more. It’s also the thing that I hate most about it. You’re always racing for place. I think there’s a perception that competitive runners are, well, competitive. That if you’re a *competitive* runner, you’re competing to BEAT those around you. That you can’t stand to lose. Perhaps this is why I’m nowhere near qualifying for any national teams, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth for me as a runner. When I toe that line I’m really only worried about what I’m doing. Whether or not I’m running a time that’s good for me. If that gets me a good place, great. If not, so be it. And that’s what I love most about my Club Northwest teammates. They seem to share the same vibe.
But cross country takes me out of my comfort zone. It’s about running for place. The changing terrain requires more strength than road or track racing. The changing contours of the course require specific trail training that I don’t typically do. And for all of the reasons that I struggle with it, many people love cross country. It’s the ushering in of fall. The courses are beautiful, a break from the pounding of the roads, and a way to compete in the same way one did in high school or college.
If I’ve piqued your interest, there are several opportunities in the Seattle-area for cross country competition this fall. And though I’ve highlighted the team aspect of the sport, you don’t need one to compete. Enter as an individual. Get out of that comfort zone. It’ll be worth it.
Seattle-area cross country races, fall 2015
Sundodger Invitational, September 19, 2015, Lincoln Park, West Seattle. Hosted by the University of Washington, this is a cross country meet with competitive invitational races, as well as open races. Registration information can be found here.
Western Washington University Classic, October 10, 2015, East Lake Padden Park, Bellingham, WA.
Emerald City Open, October 17, 2015, Lower Woodland Park, Seattle.
USATF Pacific Northwest Open and Masters Cross Country Championships, November 1, 2015, Lower Woodland Park, Seattle. Registration information should be posted to their website closer to race day.