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How to Prepare for a Cross Country Race

Updated on August 28, 2012
 Middle school cross country race
Middle school cross country race | Source

Is your student athlete getting ready for his first race of the season? Like anything else in life, if you want to do well, you must be prepared. Use these guidelines to help your athlete run a competive race.

How to Prevent Shin Splints

Allow Time to Train for the Race

In order to increase endurance and reduce the risk of injury, all runners train for the event. Even athlete's bodies need a base to build from. Many injuries in beginning runners are caused by running too much, too fast. A good rule is not to increase a running distance by more than ten percent a week. For example, middle school cross country runners could start training at 0.5 miles three times a week and increase it by 0.25 miles per week.

Make sure your child is following a coach's training plan. This will help determine the recommended distances to run as well as what exercises to do to strengthen muscles. Toe walks and heel walks are excellent exercises to prevent the common ailment of shin splints in runners. Planks are also good exercises to strengthen the core of a beginning runner.

HIgh school boys running cross country
HIgh school boys running cross country | Source

Have a Race Strategy

Talk with your runner about his race strategy. Make sure he can explain what his coach has instructed him to do and why. Here are some basics you can go over with your runner:

Be familiar with the course. Most races have a "walk through" before the start of the race. Encourage your runner to pay attention during this time as some courses have multiple turns. Also, you do not want your runner to be disqualified if he cuts corners which are identified on the "walk-through."

Pace yourself. Remind your runner not go out too hard and quickly burn out. She should run with her teammates as a pack. Follow the coach's strategy.

Plan where to make your move. Using a running watch and course landmarks can help a runner determine where to increase their speed, but still allowing enough energy to finish strong. Remind your runner to run across the finish line; not stopping at the line.

Visualize your race. Runners should be mentally prepared by seeing themselves run the race and cross the finish line.

Hydration is key to successful running
Hydration is key to successful running | Source


One of the biggest factors a new runner faces is learning how and when to hydrate. If a runner is dehydrated, he will lose speed, strength, energy and the ability to make good decisions. In addition the risk of injury is increased. According to Runner's World, "As little as 2% dehydration will have a negative effect on your race performance."

Just how much fluid do we need? Everyday you should drink half your weight in ounces, plus another eight ounces for every 15 minutes of exercise. For example, if your runner weighs 120 pounds, he should drink 60 ounces of fluid everyday. That is roughly seven 8oz. glasses of water a day as a base.

In addition, both you and your runner should know the signs of dehydration. Tell your runner if she is feeling thirsty, she is already dehydrated. If your runner has a headache, fatigued, nausea, has dry mouth, chills, clammy skin or cramps she needs to hydrate. If a runner becomes too dehydrated if can lead to dizziness and heat stroke.

Strawberries are an excellent source of water and vitamin C
Strawberries are an excellent source of water and vitamin C | Source

Fruits are Good Sources of Fluids Too

Parents can also help their runner stay hydrated by having them eat fruits as a part of their daily diet. Cantaloupe, peaches and strawberries all contain electrolytes and water. Watermelon, kiwi and oranges are great choices for water and vitamin C. Cut them up in advance so they are ready for an afternoon snack. Fruit smoothies are popular breakfast choices and an excellent way to boost your runner's fruit intake.

When and How Much Should you Hydrate?

When to Hydrate
How Much
Daily hydration
Half your weight in ounces plus 8oz. per 15 minutes of exercise
2-3 hours before running
17-10 oz. combination of water and sports drink
30 minutes before a race
8-10 oz of water or sports drink
After race or practice
24 oz. combo of water and sports drink for every pound of body weight lost during exercise

Cross Country Hydration Recommendations from

Your runner may need running spikes for some races.
Your runner may need running spikes for some races. | Source

Break in Running Shoes

Take your time to research which running shoe is best for your athlete. Let a trained salesperson in a running specialty store help you as they generally will have so much more running knowledge than someone at a regular sporting good store. Depending on what type of races your athlete will be running, you may need running shoes and spikes. Once you select your purchase, gradually break in your shoes. Follow a coach's advice on when to wear running spikes. They are lighter shoes, but also have very little support.

Girls running a cross country race
Girls running a cross country race | Source

Support Your Athlete

Running cross country is hard work. It differs from other sports because there is no instant gratification of a goal being scored, grabbing a rebound or making a good pass. You have to be in it for the long haul because it requires so much training and conditioning. Your runner may run a great race, but may not come in first. Though cross country is a team sport, runners must keep pushing themselves for a new personal record. This is how a cross country runner can best measure his achievement.


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    • LauraGSpeaks profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      To have run in college, you must be a good runner! My son runs high school XC. I love the supportive community of runners. We always cheer on every runner. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Jason Matthews profile image

      Jason Matthews 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Nice hub! I ran XC in high school and college. Having good preparation is so important for a good performance. I especially liked how you talked about supporting the athletes. As I runner, I know how much it helps to have folks out there cheering for you.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      jellygator, you had it rough running with asthma. There is a girl who suffers with asthma on the middle school CC team with my son. She has not yet learned when to stop pushing herself and she scares the bejeebers out of me. She is such a competitor that she doesn't want to stop, even when she absolutely should.

    • jellygator profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      As an asthmatic, I hate running! But when I was in the Army and had to do it, I faced some of the problems you mentioned here - painful shin splints and dehydration that led to severe headaches. I wish I'd seen the information in your table presented that way back then - it could have saved me a lot of pain and maybe improved my lousy performance.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Thanks twinstimes2 for reading and pinning! Judi Bee, I too ran cross country in high school. Living in the southern United States, we did not have to worry about cold temps--just the opposite. We struggled with getting overheated. I cannot imagine running in boots!!

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      8 years ago from UK

      I loathed cross country at school - we had to run in our hockey boots when the playing fields were frozen too hard or were too wet to play on. All I remember is extreme cold and shortness of breath. Fortunately I got over it and took up running as an adult. This is good advice, and hopefully the runners who take it will enjoy cross-country more than I did!

    • twinstimes2 profile image

      Karen Lackey 

      8 years ago from Ohio

      Another great hub. I love all the tips! Cross country is a challenging sport. My stepdaughter ran for four years in high school. I learned so much about the sport and gained so much respect for the athletes. Pinned it. Great job.


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