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Member of NHS track team sophomore runner Danielle Goode racing

Track vs. Cross Country: What’s the Difference?

Running:  it's an incredibly popular way of exercising that many partake in. Some people love to run, while others just do it as a form of exercise. For those people who enjoy running, they may join either cross country or track, or, on most occasions, both as a sport. 


When it comes to these two sports, many people don’t really know the difference between them. Some may think it is the same sport with different names, however, that is not true. While they both involve running, they are actually quite different from one another. 


One of the differences between the two running sports is the distances. In cross country, there are two kinds of races: the 3200 meters (2 miles) which mostly first-year cross country runners run in, or the 5k (3.1 miles) which most cross country runners race. From this, cross country consists of running long distances.


On the other hand, track is more of a short-distance sport where the most someone can run is the 3200-meter race. Track athletes are either considered a sprinter or long-distance. A sprinter mainly races in short-distance competitions, ranging from the 100-meters to the 400-meters, while the athlete who does long-distance runs lengths ranging from 800 meters all the way to 3200 meters. In addition to track, you can compete in events such as high jump, long jump, pole vault, throwing, or hurdles, that don’t really require that much running. NHS Track and Field Team Head Coach Gerald Ryan believes that “you can find your raw ability in this sport”. 


Another difference between the two is the terrain on which the athlete has to run. Cross country races are “on courses that are through nature, such as parks or woods. They can be dirt, grass, even sand depending on where the course is,” said NHS Cross Country Team Head Coach Kara McNish. However, track races are run on a 6 or 8-lane track. 


One last difference between cross country and track is the training that the two sports require. Cross country requires athletes to train their endurance and stamina, as they are running for a longer distance on uneven terrain, meaning hills. “Practices depend on the day of the week but are either a workout, long run, or recovery day (day after a meet),” said McNish.

In contrast, track athletes have to work on their speed, endurance, as well as explosiveness, and acceleration, as they are running for a shorter distance on a flat, even surface. Additionally, they must train for specific events such as high jump, long jump, pole vault, and throwing. “Practices are usually a bit crazy at the start due to the size of our team, but once we divide up into event groups it is more manageable. The runners tend to use a hard/easy/hard/easy/hard/easy schedule when it comes to daily workouts. On the 'hard' days, they will do a track workout, on easy days they focus on their field events, get a lifting day, or go on a run,” said Ryan. 


Overall, while both cross country and track are running sports, they are actually quite different in multiple ways. Cross country is more of a longer-distance sport that revolves heavily around stamina, while track is primarily a shorter-distance sport that requires athletes to push themselves to run faster on an even running ground. Furthermore, some people prefer track rather than cross country, such as sophomore Kaitlyn Gibney. “I recommend track more because there are more choices to pick from, with the different events that the sport gives,” said Gibney.