How it Works: Cross Country Crash Course

For those of you wondering if cross country is as simple as it sounds, this article will quench your thirst for that knowledge.

Cross country is often an overlooked sport, especially at MSU, with football and hockey taking center stage while cross country is in season. However, that doesn’t bother coach Jen Blue and the women’s cross country team. 

“It is what it is. We don’t get the publicity that sports like basketball, football and hockey do, but we are satisfied with just reaching our goals,” Blue said. 

Last season, Blue and the Mavs finished second at the NSIC championships before Amanda Montplaisir and McKenna Thurston led MSU to 16th place in Seattle, Washington at the NCAA Division II Championships.

“That was their goal from day one. That was their vision, that’s what they focused on through every meet,” Blue said. “They knew they all had to work together to get to that team goal.”

With a little bit of context, you can see how hard the runners push each other to achieve their ultimate goal, but let’s finally answer this question; How does it work?

Most people know cross country is a sport based on running long distances.

But how does a cross country meet actually work?

There is only one race, and it is a 6K. If you are unfamiliar with the term ‘6K’, it is equal to 3.73 miles. Anybody can run the 6K, but only the five top finishers count toward the team score. However, if the sixth and seventh place runners on a team are higher than another competing school’s, then they would place higher. The first place runner receives one point, second place receives two points, and so on and so forth. The lowest score wins.

Some races may be shorter than a 6K, but for nationals, conference, regions and other big races, the distance remains the same.

For the Mavs, they have only five meets this year, all in different places, but none at home. Each of the five courses comes with its own challenges.

“They are all different. Augie (Twilight) is flat, it’s at a soccer complex. (Roy) Griak is tough, it’s a lot of ups and downs and turns, Carleton simulates the region course, and Joplin is kind of hilly and open, and St. Cloud is also pretty flat,” Blue said. 

According to Blue, the most important physical tool to have as a cross country runner is to “be in shape.” Which makes sense. For a sport based solely on running long distances, you have to be conditioned.

“You have to have the lung capacity and endurance. You can’t run 20 miles a week and expect to go out and race well. You just have to find the optimal mileage for each runner,” said Blue.

However, running that far for that long, every single day, you also need to be mentally tough.

“You have to stay engaged. You have to focus. We have our weeks to train, but it is all individualized based on the athlete’s needs,” said Blue. “Everyone has their own unique thing before the race, like how a basketball player prepares to shoot a free throw. They all have their own routine.”

Despite the runners trying for individual high placement and scores, cross country is still a team game, and Blue is the one who pulls the team together. 

“I need to be able to get everyone back into the right mental state and focused on their race, wherever they are so that when the gun goes off, they are ready to go,” Blue said.

To build a great team, you need great team chemistry. The Mavs are a team that prides itself on its relationships, and a lot of the runners on the team are multi-sport athletes, also participating on the Track and Field team at MSU. 

Cross country is a unique sport that can be used as a way to condition athletes, but some may have higher goals and can be really passionate about their sport. That’s the beauty of it. 

So that’s how it works. If you ever get confused on how a meet works, just remember this:

“We line up at the starting line, and the time goes on until everyone finishes,” said Blue.

Header Photo: With both MSU cross country teams ranked in the top five of their respective divisions, it is time to learn a little bit more about cross country. (File Photo)

Write to Hayden Lee at

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