September in Oregon means many things. The weather is cooling, a fresh new school year has begun, the leaves are turning colors, and best of all, cross country season is finally here! Whether you have been training hard all summer to get ready for the fall racing season or whether you have never even heard of the sport, there is a little bit of inspiration for anyone in watching the toughest XC runners battle it out through whatever a course may have in store for them- hills, mud, puddles, rain, sleet or snow. Read on for our XC season guide for the curious! (Header photo: 2016 Oregon State High School Cross Country Championships. Copyright ORethwill Images, 2016)
What Exactly Is XC?
Cross country is a natural-terrain version of long distance track events, where runners compete in 2-8 mile races on courses that integrate grass fields, woodland trails, roads, and other terrain, usually through parks, pedestrian trails, or even on golf courses. Like track, it is both an individual and a team sport. Each runner receives an individual time and place, but team scores are also calculated through a points-scoring method. The team spirit and camaraderie is often high amongst members of a cross country team, as team members get to know each other by training together and learning to encourage and push each other on race day. Cross country is also one of the few outdoor sports with a season that runs through the heart of the winter, so wild weather conditions are just another part of the adventurous spirit of XC!
How Far Do I Run?
Typically at the collegiate level and higher, a women’s cross country course is 6 kilometers (3.73 miles), and a men’s course is 8 or 10 kilometers (6.21 miles). At the high school level, both boys and girls typically race on 5 kilometer courses. For athletes younger than that, the USATF (governing body of track and field) has created age and distance guidelines that are often used by club teams:
- Age 8 and under: 2k (1.42 miles)
- Age 9-12: 3k (1.86 miles)
- Age 13-14: 4k (2.48 miles)
- Age 15-18: 5k (3.10 miles)
How can I try it?
Many middle and high schools include cross country as a fall sport. Check to see if your school has a team. In Oregon, the PDXC Middle School State Championship is open to both school affiliated teams and club teams, and does not require qualification-teams simply register to participate. The event includes a “Champs” race for beginners and “Super Champs” race for more competitive runners.
Many youth track clubs throughout the state of Oregon also participate in a cross country season in the fall and winter, providing an opportunity for youth to practice with other youth runners at group practices and race as a team in local cross country meets. Find the complete list of USATF certified track clubs here. *This list is not comprehensive of ALL running clubs and opportunities. Your local parks and recreation department, community center, or other organization might host a non-USATF certified club or all-comer’s meet.
Take advantage of an all-comers meet. If there is a cross country club team in your community, see if they host an “all-comers”, “community”, or “developmental” meet that is open to non-team members. Your local parks and recreation department or a similar organization might also host community racing opportunities. Here are a few we know of in the Portland Metro Area:
Foot Traffic All-Comers Cross Country- youth and adult races at Overlook Park in Portland on select Thursday evenings in September and October. No experience necessary and only $3 entry fee for youth! A great place to try your first XC race!
Portland Parks and Recreation Run for the Fun of It 5k Series- Family friendly 5k races that take place at Portland area parks throughout the summer and fall. The final race of the year will be October 15th at Pier Park. $5 entry free for adults and free for youth!
The USATF (governing body of Track and Field) hosts the official national cross country circuit for youth ages 8-18 from September to December. See the Oregon schedule of meets here. USATF membership is not needed to participate in the Developmental or All-Comers meets on the Oregon schedule. Simply follow the individual meet instructions for registration. To participate in the Association meet, you must be a USATF member. The Association meet is essentially Oregon’s state meet, and serves as the qualifying meet for the Regional and then National USATF Cross Country Competitions. Athletes qualify to move onto the Regional meet in Seattle, WA (featuring athletes from Oregon, Washington, and Alaska) by finishing in the top 30 individuals in their age group at the Association meet. This year’s National meet will be hosted in Tallahassee, Fl.
Happy Fall Running!