Short distance vs. long distance, 400 meters vs. 3200 meters and sprints vs. endurance. Track and cross country are more like distant cousins than sisters, even though their names are often mixed up by non-runners. The races, workouts and overall experience of each are quite different.
The two races in cross country are the 3200-meter, which is about 2 miles, and the 5K, which is 3.1 miles. Many runners prefer to race the 2-mile because of the shorter distance and the better chances of getting a personal record, or PR.
Short distance track races range from 100 meters to 800 meters long. Long distance races include the 1600-meter and the 3200-meter. Relay races involve teams of four runners, with each member running the same distance and passing along a baton to the next person.
Varsity cross country and track runner, Anna Fent ’21 said, “One of the major differences between track and cross countries lies in the race experience. Cross country meets consist of a singular race along an uneven course that can be shorter or longer than its set distance, whereas track meets are a more uniform experience, especially when it come to the race itself.”
Due to the variability of a cross country race, a smart strategy while running is to take the tangents whenever the course turns or curves. This practice prevents runners from running a longer distance than necessary to reach the finish. On the other hand, track races are much more straightforward, with a dusty red-colored track that is the same no matter where a meet is being held.
No matter what, mental strength is key for both track and cross country.
“In the track 3200, much of the mental focus is on meeting goals for split times, whereas a cross country race for that same distance is more about enduring through whatever the course throws at you while maintaining a pace that will allow you to PR,” said Katherine Reynolds ’22, another varsity runner.
From my own experience, it helps to sing a song in my head to keep myself distracted from discomfort during a race. My favorites are “Stayin’ Alive” by Bee Gees, “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor and “Roar” by Katy Perry.
While being outside in the Texas heat and dealing with an uneven trail can be difficult, the conditions make a cross country race more interesting than a simple track. Another tactic of distracting yourself is to scan your surroundings while running.
During a cross country practice, runners run on average for forty minutes straight and take few to no breaks. A week of practices is normally split into one long run, two shorter and faster workouts and two recovery runs. The long run and recovery runs are great opportunities to chat with friends about the school day.
“In cross country, everyone runs the same workout at practice and the same race at meets, so the team really bonds over that commonality,” Fent said.
Cross country workouts compared to track workouts are different because in track, runners will focus on their own specialty. Runners either do long or short distance. There are also members of the team who practice for field events like shot put, pole vault and long jump.
Long distance track runners have workouts very similar to cross country workouts. However, the short distance runners practice apart from the long distance team members. They might have workouts resembling 800-meter sprints with short recovery breaks and their practices include more strength training.
Since track includes not only running but field events as well, athletes do not have to limit themselves to relays and sprints. They can also choose to run events that include hurdles. In this aspect, track has more variety than cross country.
Yet, track and cross country do have their undeniable similarities.
“[In the end,] both sports promote diversity among their participants: The cross country team welcomes runners of all speeds and experience levels, while track includes so many different events—not all of them running,” Fent said.
In terms of overall experience, both track and cross country include what matters most—a strong sense of community that arises from training and racing hard alongside your team members.
“In track, everyone has their individual events, [meaning] you can watch your friends compete and cheer for them! Both sports also come with early-morning bus rides and crazy Texas weather! XC and track are completely different atmospheres, but they’re both so much fun,” said Fent.
In the end, it is the close bonds that form in sharing every experience that comes with these two sports that make both so phenomenal.
Image courtesy of Natalie Ro ’22