My tips for cross country running

*Disclaimer* Please note that all of the below are my personal tips. Although I’m not a qualified running coach, I have first-hand experience of cross country running.

I thought that as it’s the cross country season, I’d share some of my personal hints and tips. Although my niggly knee means that I’m avoiding the mud this season, I’ve been lucky enough to participate in a range of cross country races in the past. While I’m far from being a cross country running ‘expert’, I have learnt a lot along the way.

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1. Take several pairs of running shoes with you. You probably won’t know the exact terrain and conditions of the course until the day of the race. Courses vary from day to day depending on how much rain there’s been. One day it might be 15mm spikes, another day trail shoes or even road shoes. If In doubt ask! Once you’ve decided which shoes to wear, do your laces up really tightly, if you don’t they will probably come off. For extra shoe security gaffer tape can be used to hold your shoes on your feet. This has the added bonus of preventing the laces getting covered in mud.

2. Take loads of clothes with you for before and after you’ve raced. If it’s cold gloves and a hat are a must! Don’t use your favourite/most expensive running bag, it will probably get muddy. I used to carry all of my gear in a black bin bag. I may have looked a bit daft but my clothes generally stayed dry and mud free while I was running. Remember that changing facilities will probably be limited or in some cases nonexistent.

3. Wear black or dark coloured socks! I once wore my ‘lucky’ white compression socks. I didn’t make the same mistake a second time.

4. Always wear short shorts. Legs are a lot easier to wash than running capris and running tights. Baby wipes are brilliant at getting rid of the large chunks of mud on your legs, arms, face etc…


5. Take loads of food and drinks for afterwards. Cakes and other homemade snacks seem to be really popular. When it was really cold, I used to take a thermos flask filled with me. There are no goody bags at cross country races and food and drink facilities are often nonexistent.

6. Wear your GPS watch if you want to but don’t get too hung-up on pace and time. In my experience, cross country courses are generally challenging with large hills and middy sections. Your pace will be a lot slower than it is on the road. Also, don’t spend too much time comparing your times across different courses. Each course is unique and you can only really compare your time on the same course. Even then, if conditions are different, it can be relatively meaningless. Race against others!

7. Wash your shoes as soon as you can when you get home. I used to hose off the majority of the mud outside, and then use a bowl of soapy water and an old toothbrush. I would then give my shoes a final rinse in the shower. Once my shoes were clean, I would remove the spikes and put Vaseline in the spike holes. Never let your spikes go rusty, they can be really difficult to remove. I may have learnt this the hard way.

8. Finally, try to smile and have fun. Cross country running is challenging but it is also great fun!

Do you have any cross country running hints and tips to add to my quick guide?

Do you enjoy cross country running or do you avoid the mud?


9 thoughts on “My tips for cross country running

  1. Maria @ runningcupcake says:

    I’ve never done a proper cross country course, although I did a 5 mile race once which probably was, in hindsight. I don’t think I could bear to wear shorts though- too cold! I’d rather wear old ones and wash them a few times! I like my muddy off road parkrun courses, but they are not this wet!


    • Emma says:

      My love of cross country running started when I was at school. My first experience of a ‘proper’ cross country course was at the Midlands Independent Schools cross country championships. I didn’t own a pair of cross country spikes and struggled to stay upright in the mud. I invested in some running spikes and finished in the top 10 the following year. The photo of me running through the river was taken near the finish of the Suicide 6 race in November. I’m almost 6ft tall and have long legs, other runners got drenched going through the water. Quite a few runners dived in. At least the river water washed off the majority of the mud.


  2. AnnaTheApple says:

    Really good tips. I’m in the camp of “put some newspaper in your shoes and hide them away for weeks…” in how I feel with my trail shoes! Not a good plan I must say 😉
    I think wanting to get good times is a bit pointless as XC is all about positions and the terrain is so beyond normal pacing, but it’s fun. I don’t do it enough but when I do do it I enjoy it.


    • Emma says:

      Thanks Anna. I only thought about sharing my cross country tips when I came across my old spikes abandoned in the loft. They were covered in mud and rust and were beyond redemption… As I’m too slow for my current running club, I’m researching new clubs at the moment. It’s amazing how many local clubs don’t enter teams into the cross country leagues. Anyway, once I’ve found a club, I need to make sure that my knee is cross country proof next season!


  3. Helen says:

    I’m a massive princess and I hate mud, so I don’t think I would do too well at cross country!

    I remember the hell of it at school and hiding in the bush at the end of the first field loop and waiting for half the class to come back, before jumping in mid pack to finish. Thing is, I never got questioned as I was fairly sporty other than that!

    Oops, that makes me a cheat, doesn’t it?! I wouldn’t do it now!


  4. Kiwiness says:

    Take a spike key with you, nothing worse than donning your spikes and finding some of them loose. Also take different length spikes with you, short, medium and long so you can put in the spikes appropriate for the course. But I suppose that would fit in with your tip #1.


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