If you are new to cross country, welcome!
High school cross country is a team sport that involves racing on grass courses. High school athletes race a 5 kilometer distance (about 3.1 miles) and middle school athletes race a 2 mile distance. The top seven finishers from a team in each race are given a score based on their place (1st place = 1 point, 2nd place = 2 points, 3rd place = 3 points, etc). The points from the top five finishers of each team are added up to give a team score, and the team with the lowest score wins the meet. Meets can consist of two teams (called a dual meet) or, in the case of some large invitationals, up to 40 or 50 teams. Most meets allow teams to enter an unlimited number of competitors in each race, although some larger invites hold a scored "varsity" race for a team's top seven runners, then a separate "open" race for the others.
Cross country spectators are typically very supportive and respectful. Come to a cross country meet and you will likely walk away highly impressed by the effort being put forth by the competitors. Rarely does a spectator cheer against or "boo" the competition nor do they have cause to yell at officials for "bad calls". Spectators often get a workout of their own during meets as they walk or run to varying points of the course to watch each race develop.
Cross country is a great mixture of individual sport and team sport. Each individual is responsible for crossing the finish line by their own power. Teammates are not allowed to carry one another across the finish. Teammates may not substitute for each other during the race and coaches may not call time out to discuss strategy. On the other hand, no one athlete can win a team title by his or herself. The team title does not go to the team with the fastest individual, but to the team with the fastest five individuals. Teammates can help each other through packing, encouragement, and accountability.
Cross country athletes train at a variety of paces and distances. Some practices will involve longer runs to promote endurance and cardiovascular / musculoskeletal strength, while some practices will involve shorter, faster runs to improve running efficiency and oxygen intake. Training for cross country is demanding, but most athletes love the feeling of getting in shape and seeing the improvements that they are able to make. Many athletes find running stress-relieving and they love the comradery of training with teammates.
Below are a few resources to help you get to know your new sport!
The Origins of Cross Country- backstory of the origins of the sport in England, courtesy of Running Times magazine.
How to Watch a Cross Country Meet- great primer on the fundamentals of watching the sport, courtesy of Kamiakin High School Cross Country.
Cross Country Running Tips- great tips for beginning runners, courtesy of Tips4Running.com.