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What Are Cross Country Races?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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Cross country races are sporting events in which competitors will run, bike, ski, or otherwise travel through wooded areas or other natural terrain for medium to long distances. The specific rules of the races will vary by sport, though in general, several competitors will be on the course at once. In many cases, cross country races will be conducted on a planned course, and the competitors will complete several laps of this course in order to complete the race.

The terrain of courses designed for cross country races can vary; some of it is likely to be quite rough, while some sections will be smoother, allowing the athlete to pick up more speed. Most course designers strive to vary the terrain as much as possible, though in some cases, this may not be a viable option. Cross country races are often conducted in all weather conditions, and the race may or may not be canceled or postponed for rain, snow, wind, or other inclement weather. The races are usually only canceled if the weather conditions make the course too sloppy or otherwise impassable. Cross country races for skiers are canceled more often than other types of races due to weather, since the presence of snow is necessary for skiers to complete the race. Ski races generally won't be canceled if there is enough snow, even if the conditions are not ideal.

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Courses can feature some gains in elevation, and racers may be required to navigate up and down hills. Cross country mountain bikers may have to dismount their bikes to complete some steeper climbs, though in most cases, cross country races are conducted on more rolling terrain. Designers want to allow racers to gain speed, thereby increasing the excitement level for fans. Special equipment may be necessary for racers to complete courses safely; runners, for example, will require special cross-country or cross-training shoes that offer some ankle and foot support. Mountain bikers will require helmets for safety and moisture wicking clothing for comfort and performance.

The start of a race can be especially difficult because all of the racers are at the starting line at once. Navigating through the pack can be difficult and in some cases dangerous, and this can be one of the slower parts of the race. Some mountain bike races may be started with a Le Mans start, during which riders start on their feet and run to their bikes. This helps spread out the pack before the course narrows onto singletrack trails.

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