A Parent’s Guide to Cross Country


Have you ever signed your child up for an activity without realizing what you were getting yourself into? I have. Almost every time my son tries something new. While he doesn’t take after me in the types of activities that he has done, he does take after me in the staggering quantity. His newest is cross country. Cross country is a comparatively chill activity, but it still would have been nice to know what to expect at the outset. To save you from spending a season as the clueless cross country newbie parent, I’m going to share what I’ve learned this year.

Mobile Image copy-2First, what is cross country?

One of my friends from elementary school ran cross country. I had a mental image of her, quite literally, spending each weekend running across the United States. It turns out that while cross country is grueling, it’s not quite that grueling. Cross country involves running outside, usually on grass and through trails in the woods. Middle school teams run 1.5 to 2 miles. High school teams typically run 3.1 miles (a 5K).

When is cross country season?

Teams start practicing in August. Meets are held in September and October.

Mobile Image copy1Will my child need any special equipment?

Just a decent pair of cross country sneakers. You can find these in all prices ranges. Running stores and sporting goods stores usually have the biggest selection. You can also find them at shoe stores and superstores like Target and Walmart. I wouldn’t recommend buying them online. Your son or daughter is going to rack up a lot of miles in these sneakers. They need to fit perfectly.

What should I expect with practices?

Every team is different, but my son’s team practices for an hour three nights per week at a local park. A potential difficulty for working parents is time. Since the kids can’t run through the woods in the dark, practice tends to be early.

What about meets?

Meets are usually on weekend mornings or early afternoons. The kids are split by gender. All of the boys run and then all of the girls run (or vice versa). If it is a larger meet that includes both high school and middle school runners, the kids will be split by school level and (usually, but not always) gender.

Meets usually last no more than an hour from warm up until the last runner crosses the finish line. Aside from the possibility of rain, the weather is usually nice where we live that time of year. The only real downside is that there isn’t much to see. Parents watch the mob of children run into the woods then reemerge five to ten minutes later to cross the finish line. If you have ever been to a 5k, cross country meets are very similar.

Mobile Image copy-1How is it scored?

Cross country has an individual and a team element. Each race is timed and the kids are ranked within their age group and gender. Points are awarded to the team based on the performance of each of their runners.

Anything else I should know?

Running burns A LOT of calories. If you have a pubescent son, he is probably already eating like a pregnant hippo. If he starts doing cross country be prepared for his appetite to increase to levels you hadn’t thought possible. You may want to invest in a membership to Costco or Sam’s.

Comment below if you have any cross country knowledge to impart. If you liked this post, please subscribe and share.