Cross country running
Cross country running is a sport in which teams and individuals run a race on open-air courses over natural terrain such as dirt or grass. Sometimes the runners are referred to as harriers (dogs). The course, typically 4Ö12 kilometres (2.5Ö7.5 mi) long, may include surfaces of grass, and earth, pass through woodlands and open country, and include hills, flat ground and sometimes gravel road. It is both an individual and a team sport; runners are judged on individual times and teams by a points-scoring method. Both men and women of all ages compete in cross country, which usually takes place during autumn and winter, and can include weather conditions of rain, sleet, snow or hail, and a wide range of temperatures.
Courses for international competitions consist of a loop between 1750 and 2000 meters. Athletes complete three to six loops, depending on the race. Senior men compete on a 12-kilometre course. Senior women and junior men compete on an 8-kilometre course. Junior women compete on a 6-kilometre course.
In the United States, college men typically compete on 8 km (5.0 mi) or 10 km (6.2 mi) courses, while college women race for 5 km (3.1 mi) or 6 km (3.7 mi). High school courses are generally 5 km (3.1 mi). Middle school courses are usually 1.5 mi (2.4 km) or 2 mi (3.2 km) long.
Chip timing has grown in popularity to increase accuracy and decrease the number of officials required at the finish line. Each runner attaches a transponder with RFID to his or her shoe. When the runner crosses the finish line, an electronic pad records the chip number and matches the runner to a database. Chip timing allows officials to use checkpoint mats throughout the race to calculate split times, and to ensure runners cover the entire course. This is by far the most efficient method, although it is also the most expensive. The drawback to chip timing is its inability to separate a close finish properly. Chips times the feet, when the rule books say it is the torso that counts. It is technically possible for an athlete to fall across the finish line, legally crossing the finish line, but with their feet too far away from the sensor to have their finish recorded.
Because of differences between courses in running surface, frequency and tightness of turns, and amount of up and downhill, cross country strategy does not necessarily simplify to running a steady pace from start to finish. Coaches and cross country runners debate the relative merits of fast starts to get clear of the field, versus steady pacing to maximize physiological efficiency. Some teams emphasize running in a group in order to provide encouragement to others on the team, while others hold that every individual should run his or her own race. In addition, whether you run ahead 'of the pack' or behind it and pull ahead in the end is important, but can vary according to the runner's individual skill, endurance, and the length of the race. Runners should also account for food intake prior to the race. Most important, however, is the training beforehand.