Cross Country runner stretching in the sunset

Teens & Young Adults • Jul 27, 2021

Keeping Your Cross Country Runner Healthy and Uninjured

As we head towards the beginning of August, high school sports will be getting back into full swing.  Kids will be transitioning from summer life to full sports activities fairly rapidly.  Some kids will have been training all summer, while some will have been taking it easy and resting.

Cross country (XC) is a popular fall high school/middle school sport in this area and around the country.  It is great because it requires little to no equipment and can be great for kids of all abilities.  It can, however, also be a place where overuse injuries can occur if the proper precautions are not taken.  Below are some tips to keep your cross country athlete healthy all season.

Pre-season training

  • Most XC coaches will send out a program for athletes to work on over the summer. An athlete doesn’t necessarily need to follow that, but they should be doing some running or cross-training (see below) unless they are recovering from an injury.  Starting the season with no training at all will quickly lead to pain and injury.  Most coaches expect some level of fitness coming into the season and will start rigorous workouts very quickly.

Proper footwear

  • XC does not require much in the way of equipment, but that one piece of equipment, shoes, is very important. Shoes need to fit the foot well and not be overworn.  I usually recommend runners have at least one fitting at a local running store to see what shoe fits them best.  They can also recommend inserts if needed.  Shoes should be changed out about every 300 or 400 miles, so it is important for your athlete to keep track of how much they are running.  Worn out shoes can contribute to lower leg pain and injury.

Don’t be afraid to cross-train

  • Cross country coaches often expect that their athletes will be running six days per week between practice and meets. This can be tough on many athlete’s bodies, especially as they get deep in the season.  Runners can be as effective with running 3-4 days per week and then doing cross-training on the other days, and it is less hard on the body.  Cross-training would be doing the stationary bike, elliptical, or swimming.  It allows an athlete to build their cardiovascular endurance without taxing the body as much.  Whether or not your athlete decides to cross-train or not, every runner needs at least one full day off per week from running.

Don’t run on an empty stomach

  • Most high school athletes go immediately to a practice or a game after school. Make sure your runner has the fuel they need to go to practice or a meet.  I would encourage them to consume trail mix or a granola bar (Clif Bars or other bars with added protein and nutrition) along with some water at the very least before heading out to practice.

Be proactive about pain

  • If your runner starts experiencing pain, it is important not to push through. They should let their coach, parent, or athletic trainer know.  This way, workouts can be modified.  Pushing through pain can lead to more serious injury and loss of time from the season.

Running is a great way to stay in shape, and XC is a great way to compete and run with friends.  Following the above tips can help keep your athlete out on the course and out of the trainer’s room.