Track versus cross country

Track versus cross country. To most non-runners, they can be used interchangeably to mean sports that consist of running. To athletes and coaches, these two sports are different in many dimensions. Although the goals and basis of the two are similar, the training, team composition and format are clearly different.

“Track is a little different in that there is no place to hide. Cross country you are in the woods somewhere and you’re with a group of people. On the track, you’re going around in circles in front of everyone,” cross country and track Head Coach Mark Lech said.

The main difference between the two sports is the environment where you are competing, the distance and the size of the race.

Third-year runner Kaitlin Saulter made the switch from soccer to cross country this year, with the hope of improving her track performance. With this being her first time exposed to the cross country environment, she identified running on the trail as one of the best parts of it.

“The trail running versus the going around in circles running. I definitely like being able to run on the trails. I’ve really gotten into that. I’d say that’s the biggest difference,” Saulter said.

Another big difference between the two is the format in which you compete. For track, the longest race that most athletes participate in is the 10,000-meter for men and the 5,000-meter for women. For cross country, men run an 8k race while women usually run a 5k. Also, with track, the races are much smaller with multiple heats of each event, whereas in cross country there are two races, one for men and one for women. This racing format is not something that the athletes overlook.

“Mentally cross country is a completely different beast than track. For track, you are usually done in 15 minutes. It takes a lot more mental toughness to stay focused during a race when the race is over 20 minutes long. It’s a lot harder to do cross country,” redshirt fifth-year Jesse Orach said.

The distance difference and the way the season falls right after summer means athletes train differently than they do for track. With cross country, the athletes have to put in the work during the summer to be ready to compete when school starts up again, whereas the track team is together for the majority of the preseason and training can be done as a group.

“Cross country…the training is a lot more intense because you have all summer to prepare for cross country and when you do both sports your preparation for cross country carries into track so you kinda just coast off the training you did in the summer as long as you stay healthy,” Orach said.

Despite these differences many of the athletes have trouble choosing one as a favorite.

“They both have their upsides and downsides but I love them both because they both allow me to run. It is always nice when xc [cross country] season is over and I can go into the indoor season and run a mile race, it’s always fun to get my fast legs back out,” fourth-year Hannah Stefl said.

Since Saulter hasn’t been doing cross country for long, she has yet to pick a favorite but found parts that she enjoys in her short time.

“They are both so different it’s hard to pick one as a favorite. Being able to run through trails and I love the fall season is great, but track I do like how the race is a little shorter just because I’m better fit for that type of race right now but maybe with time that will change,” Saulter said.

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