Cross country running has many challenges, including varied terrain, hills, inclines, and uneven surfaces. A cross country runner has to adjust his/her stride length with these many variables. This challenges the athlete differently than running on a flat surface track.
Cross country season begins at the start of the school year. Unless the athlete has trained over the summer, a lack of
conditioning could lead to many early season injuries. Instead of progressively increasing the intensity and duration of the workouts, an athlete may try to force too much training during the first part of the season, which often leads to injuries. The injury rate is usually higher for girls than boys. This can be due to physiological differences such as hip and knee angles, as well as lack of preseason conditioning.
Injuries can be twisting of an ankle or knee in the uneven terrain but most commonly cross country running injuries
are a gradual onset or related to overuse and affect the knee, hip, shin (tibia), foot, and ankle. It is important to start slow and gradual, and never increase training more than 10 percent at a time. Paying attention to proper nutrition and rest is also important over the course of the season. Some common injuries include:
• Patello-femoral pain syndrome
Pain in the front of the knee that is usually worse with stairs, climbing, sitting, and at the start of the run and/or at the end of the run. Treatment includes both stretching the muscles of the leg, as well as strengthening the quadriceps and hip muscles.
• Iliotibial band friction syndrome
Pain around the outside of the hip and knee that can be so severe that it that it can be confused with a meniscal tear. Stretching and strengthening is key to treatment and prevention.
• Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis
Pain in the heel and foot is common. Stretching and strengthening the muscles of the lower leg as well as paying attention to good, properly fitted footwear, are important prevention strategies.
• Shin splints
Lower leg pain in the shin area. If not properly treated, shin splints can lead to a more serious stress fracture of the
tibia. The cause is usually a sudden increase in training volume and intensity. It is important to not only increase the aerobic training capacity, but work on strengthening and stretching of the entire lower extremity.
Newer participants, especially young teenagers, are sometimes not strong enough physiologically to handle the increased intensity of cross-country training.
Cross country running is challenging but it can provide excellent cardiovascular benefits, as well as improve overall strength. It teaches discipline, and since it is a team sport, can provide a good social atmosphere. The expense of the sport is minimal, with only a good pair of shoes being the main requirement. Paying attention to a proper training program, including regular strengthening and stretching exercises, can make cross country running a very rewarding athletic experience..