Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cross Country Courses

Is the exact measurement of a cross country course important? Does it make a difference if a course is 5k, 3.0, or 2.95? For comparison reasons, having all courses the same length makes the most sense. This way, you can compare how everyone is running in your conference, region, state, or even around the nation. You can take teams and individuals, crunch the numbers, and see how you or your team stacks up against everyone else. The times will tell, right? Not really.

All cross country courses are different. Some are flat, some have hills, some gut muddy when it drizzles, some have sidewalks, some have water, etc... How can you compare someone who ran 15:50 for 5k on one course to a runner who ran 15:50 on another? You can't. Yes, their times are the same, but the performance wasn't.

The way courses are measured also becomes a factor. To begin with not all courses are measured accurately. You can not measure a course with a GPS unit for accuracy. On the other hand, if you measure a course with a tape measure, it still might not be accurate. The total distance might come out to 5k, but the runners may not run exactly how the course was measured. If someone cuts the tangents, they may run 3.04 instead of 3.1. Yes, minor difference, but not the completely accurate 5k distance.

In Illinois, most courses are not the same distance. 3.0 miles is the standard, but many courses are anywhere from 2.9 to 3.0. For some reason, 5k doesn't exist out here. The State course is 2.95 and has been debated for years on it's accuracy. Yet, Illinois does extremely well in the post season competing in Footlocker Nationals and Nike Nationals. The course lengths do not seem to effect performance outcome.

Point being, this is cross country and course distance is not important! It's about the challenge of lining up side by side to take on individuals, teams and challenging courses. Time does not matter. Performance is based on how you place. If you are obsessed with time, compare yourself or team to how they competed on the same course in years past. But most importantly, enjoy the competition and effort and leave the "exact" distance events for the track.

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