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Cross Country 101 - Racing Tips

Sep 24, 2014

Kristin Metcalf
Training

Can you believe it? Fall is finally here and October is just around the corner - the month with the most marathons and the month when cross country starts rolling for clubs, high school and college runners. Going into the XC season, we asked a couple of our veteran team members for their best tips and advice from their past experience out on the course. Whether you are trying out a cross country race for the first time or looking to PR, Jen and Allie have you covered. 


Allie Bigelow
Oiselle Volée runner and XC specialist from Raleigh, NC. 

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Allie Bigelow is an amazing member of our Volée team living in Raleigh, NC. If you ask her about her XC experience, she will probably tell you that she isn't a super pro XC runner, but seeing this woman out on the Club XC National course in Bend last winter and also following her last couple months of racing, you know she is a beast of an athlete. She didn’t run XC in high school or college but came to it later at the age of 29. She has tried to make up for lost time by racing 5 or more XC races a year for the last four years. The last three years she has competed at the Club XC Championship. Here are her best tips for XC:

1. It's never too late to start.
You don't have to have high school or college experience. I ran my first XC race at 30 and was instantly hooked.

2. Practice running the course before race day.
The footing is very different from road racing and it helps to just have some understanding of what it is like to cover gravel, grass, dirt and pavement, sometimes all in one race. It's especially wise to do this if you are planning to race in spikes for the first time. I am totally pro-spikes if for no other reason than that they get me in the XC mindset. But they do require getting used to.

3. The first mile of a XC race is going to hurt, and that's okay.
You will figure out your strengths quickly - are you an uphill powerhouse or a downhill speed demon? Then you can use those to your advantage while recovering on the opposing terrain.

4. Have fun!
Running XC feels more like playing than road racing does. Yes, it can be hard, but it is also a refreshing change of pace from running on the road. Because courses vary so much there is no chasing of PR's. Instead it's all about running hard, pushing yourself and, if you're lucky enough to have a group of teammates there with you, working as a team.


Jen Bigham
Oiselle Volée runner and marathon specialist from Pittsburg, PA. 

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Jen Bigham is - as most of our team knows - referred to as Blue Ribbon Bigham. Most notably for the number of road races that she walks away from in her neck of the woods with that first place blue ribbon. Six months after her first child was born, Jen was back racing the half marathon and setting her sights on her long term goals. After having her second child this last year, Jen is working hard at her next goal of setting a Olympic Trials Standard in the marathon. She is simply amazing. With years of XC racing and road racing under her belt, and being a XC high school coach for awhile as well, Jen gives her best tips for XC.

1. Embrace the mud.
There's a good chance you'll get dirty...and that's half the fun!

2. Forget about PR’s and time goals, just compete.
Cross-country courses might include grass, dirt, mud, stones, roots, creeks (to run through or jump over) and so much more. Your pace for road racing will definitely be different than your pace on a cross-country course. Concentrate on competing and completing more than running a certain time.

3. Consider wearing spikes.
Check out your local running specialty store if you've never heard of spikes. Because of #1 and #2 above, most XC runners wear spikes. They help you grip that grass/dirt/mud. They also make you feel faster. And just like any new shoe, practice in them before you wear them in a race.

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And because there's more to a PR than racing often and training hard, we compiled a small list of our favorite blogs to help you gain strength throughout this season. You'll be crushing the course in no time.

  • The Dozen: Core routine for runners to strengthen front/side/back while incorporating arm work as well to help make runners less injury prone.
  • Stretching on a Time Budget: You've got time for this! Jasyoga lays out a perfect 5-minute stretching routine post-run. 
  • Dynamic Warm-Up: Pro-runner training group, Little Wing, takes us through their running warm up. Easy to do just about anywhere.
  • Practical Strength for Cross Country: Four moves for strength and stability to build a strong core and glutes.
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