Why I Prefer Cross-Country Over Track
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Why I Prefer Cross-Country Over Track

A runner weighs in on the contentious debate.

Why I Prefer Cross-Country Over Track

This past week my team and I had our first competitive track and field meet of the outdoor season. Being there in the stands, on the field, and by the track, I was reminded that, despite my immense love for running, I’m not the biggest fan of track running. In fact, I greatly prefer cross-country. Now to the non-running world this may not seem like much of a statement, but if you ask most runners which they prefer, track or cross, 9 times out of 10 I’ll bet they say track. Now why is it that I buck the trend and go against the grain of runner popular opinion? Well, beyond my freethinking nature, I’d say there are a few good reasons why I give my love to cross-country over track.

I suppose to start off I’ll state the inconvenient truth that track meets are pretty boring. Now that’s not to say they don’t have moments of excitement, after all when your team has someone in the race or two good individuals are having a showdown, the mood on the track is palpable. But most of the time people are just watching with dull disinterest in the events. You just sit there waiting for your event to come up or the last event to finish so you can go home.

This boredom is only compounded if the weather is anything less then pleasant. When it’s hot you vainly try to find some shade and stay cool from the sun’s oppressive glare. When it’s cold you huddle under uncountable layers of sport sweatshirts. When it’s raining you try to stay dry and fail miserably at it.

Of course this is not to say that cross-country is all sunshine and rainbows. Frequently the weather at a cross meet is miserable, but you are usually expecting this and are better prepared. As for boredom, when you and everyone else are only doing one event there is a lot less time to just sit around and do nothing.

If variety is the spice of life, then track is as bland as white bread. Another point against track for me is that track has an overbearing sameness to it. There is little difference between a track in San Francisco and a track in Boston along with all points in-between except for the quality of the stadium around it and maybe the color on rare occasions. This standardization is great for the purposes of record setting and keeping a benchmark of ability, but beyond that, it sucks.

Cross races, by contrast, are so much more diverse. No two XC courses are alike, each unique with its combination of turns, hills, and terrain. It may not be the best for place for getting a sense of who’s the fastest, but it offers so much more in the way of the spice of life. I’ve also found that if certain courses are frequented they can become places of almost sentimental attachment.

Switching from the merits of their respective venues, track and XC also present two very different racing approaches. Track is a speedster’s game above all else, and when you combine that with a precise tactical mind, you have the quintessential track runner. The track belongs to those little punks who hold back for most of the race and then deliver a powerful kick at the end after doing nothing of importance most of the race. It’s the coward’s way to run--requiring nothing more than foot speed, a good sense of timing, and some poor schmuck to lead the race. I should know since more often then not I’ve been the schmuck, much to my chagrin.

My own personal style of running is focused primarily on endurance, on outlasting you rather than just outrunning you. Mine is the way of put up or shut up or die trying. The 5k and 10k track never fails to make my blood boil, being passed with 100m to go after leading half the race. XC on the other hand, with its variety, fits perfectly into my style. The effects of terrain and weather provide a way to level the playing field between speedsters and endurance runners like me.

My final strike against track is the most personal to me and that is that I feel track is the harsher mistress out of the two of them. Across my many track and XC seasons I’ve always found that track season is when something goes wrong. Its always track season when I get injured or stumble upon a mental block. This is not to say that cross hasn’t had its moments. The specter of anemia, which haunts me to this day as my lowest point in running, happened in XC season. But for every bad cross memory I have, I can think of two more good ones. With track it’s just the opposite.

Track and cross-country both have their merits and everyone has their preferences. I’ve made mine clear and hope that if I have not persuaded you to my position I have at least clarified why someone holds the opposite view to you. However, despite our opinion on which season is better we must remember that we are all united in our love for running. That alone makes everything worth it.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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