If you are new to cross country, let me say WELCOME! My goal is to give you a brief introduction to the sport and how it works.

First, we need to remove much of the vocabulary used in other sports. There are NO substitutions, halftimes, or timeouts. Good news for spectators as this moves things along quicker. At the same time there are no arenas, courts, or fields of play. Bad news for spectators as you will likely have to move around to participate as a fan! Here are some vocabulary words you might need to understand.

  • PR or PB –  Personal Record or Personal Best. This term is fairly common in running. The idea is anytime you run a certain distance in your fastest time yet it is considered a personal best. It is something we focus on often here at Pella.
  • Roll Out – While this term can be ambiguous, we tend to use this term as a directive to our athletes to get their lacrosse balls and rollers out and ROLL OUT their sore muscles. The idea here is to break up the fascia tissues that may be causing soreness.
  • Cross – Short for cross country. This is a hip way of saying cross country that hasn’t caught on with my generation. But at least if you hear it you will know what they are talking about.
  • Bauers – Named after legendary TV hero Jack Bauer from the show 24, these repetitions are workouts that your son or daughter run almost once a week. Made up of a 24 minute set of 2:00 easy, 1:30 hard, and :30 very hard. This four minute set is then run 6 times equaling 24 minutes. Occasionally, students will run one, one and a half, or even two of these.
  • Active Warm Up or Activation –  This is when your athlete does their best to get their muscles ready for the race by performing stunts and activities while trying to maintain some sort of coordination. Looking silly as a pack is much easier than doing it alone!
  • Fartlek – My favorite term by far! We don’t use it as much around the Dutch program but I do hear it once in a while and I can’t help but smile. The word is Swedish for “speed play.” The idea behind it is to run intervals that have fast and less intense distances mixed together. Technically, the Bauers (above) fit into this category. But if they were named fartleks some of the freshmen would never get through the workout without giggling the whole time. FRESHMEN! (eye roll)
  • Second wind – This has no relation to fartlek! (Bad joke) This is a time in the race where some athletes experience a fresh burst of energy.
  • Taper – A time when we begin to reduce the quantity of miles but keep the quality up. This time allows the body to recover and often produces the fastest times of the year. This happens during championship season and will start at different times depending on whether the athlete’s last race will be conference or not.

These are just a few terms. If you hear a term you don’t understand just ask one of the runners or coaches, we will be glad to explain.

Going the Distance

How far are the races you ask? Good question. Most races, except for a few early season ones, are the same distance from week to week. Boys run a 5 Kilometer race. This translates to 3.1 miles for those of you who refuse to use the metric system. The girls , as of the 2015 season, also run the 5k! Coach Cutler typically runs the course before the race with his GPS enabled phone to get a measurement. I assure you, his phone is NEVER wrong! *wink* (Ask him about Cedar Rapids Prairie race of 2014. HA!)

Training run distances vary. We typically warm up with an 800 meter, however if you take into account all the stride outs during warm ups it is likely over 1 mile of distance. Our conversational distances range from 2 miles to possibly 8 or 9 miles maybe even 12 miles. What is conversational pace you ask? Good question. This means you run at a pace you can visit with a teammate without getting out of breath. Coach Cutler tells the kids if you can sing a few repeats of “Happy Birthday” and not skip a beat you are at conversational pace. I can’t tell you how annoying it can be hearing a whole bunch of kids singing Happy Birthday 3 or 4 times in a row…especially when it ISN’T your birthday.

Our big distance run typically happens on Saturday’s when we have our long runs out at Red Rock trail. Each athlete is encouraged to achieve a their farthest distance of running by the end of the season. This workout proves to be a favorite, as many of the athletes reach new personal best (see the definitions above) distances.


This probably is one of the more confusing parts of cross country. How do you score a meet? I will use a hypothetical race consisting of three teams. Green team, Red team, and Blue team are running a 5 kilometer race in this example. Let’s assume it is a varsity race. In a varsity race each team is allowed seven runners. Five runners are counters two runners act as pushers. Pushers? What is that? Good question! A pusher doesn’t count in the official scoring but do count in the results. This means that each scoring runner from another team that a pusher can get a head of will add points to their scores. This is a VITAL role in a race and can often lead to winning or not. Just ask Coach Mrs. Hammann, as she helped her college team make it to Nationals by being a pusher as a freshman!

Each runner scores one point for each placing. So if a runner is first they score one point. If a runner is 12th they score 12 points. Once the totals are added together the team with the lowest score wins. We figured since we run on golf courses we should use golf-type scoring!

Here is a graphic of the finish of  a race:


This is how the results would be tabulated:

Name		Team		Team Place	Overall Place	Time	
Red One		Red Team	1		        1	16:51	
Red Two		Red Team	2			2	16:52
Green One	Green Team	3			3	16:58
Green Two	Green Team	4			4	17:02
Green Three	Green Team	5			5	17:05
Green Four	Green Team	6			6	17:08
Red Three	Red Team	7			7	17:12
Blue One	Blue Team	8			8	17:13
Green Five	Green Team	9			9	17:15
Red Four	Red Team	10			10	17:16
Red Five	Red Team	11			11	17:18
Blue Two	Blue Team	12			12	17:22
Blue Three	Blue Team	13			13	17:25
Blue Four	Blue Team	14			14	17:38
Red Six	        Red Team	15			15	17:38
Blue Five	Blue Team	16			16	17:45
Green Six	Green Team	17			17	17:49
Green Seven	Green Team	18			18	17:50
Red Seven	Red Team	19			19	17:58
Blue Six	Blue Team	20			20	18:05
Blue Seven	Blue Team	21			21	18:14

This would be the scoring outcome of the above race:

Green Team = 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 9 = 27 (17 + 18 pushers not scored)

Red Team = 1 + 2 + 7 + 10 + 11 = 31 (15 + 19 pushers not scored)

Blue Team = 8 + 12 + 13 + 14 + 16 = 62 (20 + 21 pushers not scored)

Green team wins!

That makes sense. But, what about a tie? Yes, ties DO happen in cross country. Just look at the 2013 Girls 3A race at the state meet. Decorah, who won the meet, scored 108 points while Moc-Floyd Valley also scored 108 points. There were two more sets of ties as Mount Vernon-Lisbon scored 169 tying with Charles City, and Humboldt tied with Vinton-Shellsburg with 211. While this is very unusual to have this many ties, they do happen.

In the case of a tie you look at which teams 6th place, non-scoring pusher placed the highest. In the case of Decorah and Moc-Folyd Valley the tie went to Decorah because their 6th place runner, Kelly Minear, beat out Moc-floyd by two seconds! The moral is that, though they don’t count in the score, pushers are crucial to the outcome of a meet.

Hopefully that give you an understanding of scoring.

A Final Thought about Cheering

So now you know about some of the jargon used, the distance run, and scoring method you are ready to be a hard-core fan. Let’s end our lesson on a quick discussion about cheering. We, at Pella, subscribe to positive cheering ONLY. Look, cross country is one of the most difficult sports to be involved in. You are exposing yourself as an individual. You can’t really hide behind the team performance. Workouts are hard. It is 100% effort 100% of the time to be successful in this sport. So when we cheer we want to reflect that…to ALL runners whether they are in the Pella uniform or not. So cheering should be positive. Here are some things to say:

  • “You look great/strong!” – This is a highly effective cheer. If the runner hears it enough they begin to believe it.
  • “Way to run that hill!” – We try to emphasis that hills are a great place to move up in a race.
  • “Great job!” – They ARE doing a great job. You are only witnessing the race. You should see them at practice!
  • “Keep Working Hard!” – Trust me. They ARE working hard. Encourage them to keep working.
  • “Have Fun!”  – Really, this is what we want cross country to be for our runners.
  • “Run with the next pack!”  – We want our runners to push themselves to run with the next pack and to push the next pack to run with them.
  • “Keep moving up!”  – See above.
  • “Knee up, Heel Up, Toe Up.”  – Help the runner think about form. It’s easy to forget this when you are fatigued.

Here are some things we want to avoid:

  • “Beat that (insert school here) runner!” No. We want them to push those people and make them better. This is distinctly different than beating them. “Run with that (insert school here)” is much more effective as it praises everyone involved.
  • “Work Harder.” I assure you they are working hard. Sometimes the body just can’t go any faster. Since we are cheering and not running we don’t know what that point is for the runner you are cheering on. We trust our runners to know their limits.
  • “Don’t walk.” Be careful here. Coach Cutler shared a study that sometimes walking is good for a body. While we don’t want to use this as an excuse to not work hard. Some bodies just need that short bit of recovery. Instead, encourage them to “start running as soon as you feel recovered.” Strange as it sounds this might be a huge encouragement and make the difference for the runner.

I trust you to help us build this tradition of running here at Pella. I hope you were able to learn a few things in this article. If you have any questions about cross country don’t hesitate to ask any of the coaches. We are more than happy to teach others about this sport we ALL love so much.
revised (Aug. 15, 2016)