Preparing for a Cross Country Race

This was written by our Junior Coach Alex Gostling

Much of it also applies to adults. Much of it also applies to road races.

Preparing for a Cross Country Race

Many of the children already know how to prepare for a race and so preparation for race day may seem obvious. However, I know some of the children are relatively new to running races and I have written some notes below to help the children who may need a bit of guidance for race day.

The aim is to get the children to be independent athletes on race day and although some of the younger children will still need parental support, please encourage the children to lead their own preparation as much as possible.

Day Before

  • Print off any instructions on how to get to the race, race start times and course map etc
  • Work out how much time is needed to get to the race – you should be aiming to arrive at least 1-1.5hrs before the start of the race depending on the level of competition (big competitions are very busy so you need to leave extra time for parking and finding people/race numbers, identify where parking is relative to the race course and how much of the course you need to walk around before the start of the race)

Race Day

  • Get all your kit together. You will generally need at least the following:
  • Cross country spikes with different length spikes and a spike spanner so you can decide on which spike length to wear once you have walked the course
  • Trainers to travel and warm up in and possibly a spare pair to wear after the race if it has been wet/muddy
  • Waterproofs in case it is wet and dry kit to put on after the race
  • Race Vest (must be club vest or club t-shirt for club competitions and school kit for school competitions) and Race Shorts – probably best to travel in these
  • Travel in a full tracksuit and take layers of clothing depending on the weather conditions as you do not want to be using energy keeping warm before your race
  • Water and food
  • Safety pins for race number

I recommend the children do not eat anything 2-3 hours before they race to prevent stitches and upset stomachs. The children will need to experiment though which what works for them. Make sure if they are leaving 2-3 hours that the children have a meal or large snack 2-3 hours of easily digestible food before they race so they have plenty of energy for racing.

  • When you arrive at the race course, find your race number from the team manager and pin it on your vest so it is sorted and put your chip timer on if the race is chip timed
  • Walk at least some of the race course if you can without interfering with earlier races. You need to be thinking of what the underfoot conditions are like so you can decide on spike length, whether there are any really muddy or rough bits that you need to avoid or take a certain racing line through, any bottle necks on the course that you may cause hold ups etc, identify the start and finish and how many laps you have to do. Think about how you are going to race based on the conditions and the terrain.
  • Go for an easy warm up jog about 30-40 minutes before the start of your race for about 5-10 minutes.
  • Go to the toilet – leave time for having to queue.
  • Start doing some stretching (from your head down towards your feet) and a few drills as we do in training.
  • About 15-20 minutes before your race, put on your spikes, take off your outer most layers but still keep something on to keep warm (i.e. take off tracksuit bottoms but keep jumper on). Move to where the start line is.
  • Finish stretching and drills close to the start line so you are ready to be called up for your race. In the last few minutes, remove outer layers so you are just in your race kit and get on the start line. It can help to have a parent at the start line to take kit from you.


  • Try to hang around for a few minutes after your race near the finishing line saying well done to the athletes around you or waiting for team mates to congratulate them or seeing how they are – even if you/they haven’t run as well as you/they would have liked. (Learning good sporting behaviour at a young age is really important).
  • After your race, change from your spikes to your trainers and put some warm kit on.
  • Go for a warm down jog 5-10 minutes to try and flush out some of the lactic acid from your legs.
  • Have a good snack/drink as soon as possible after your warm down to help recovery.