Cross Country Race

Cross country races are a season favorite and the perfect way to introduce distance running

Typically run on nature trails of varying terrains, cross country races promote setting long-term goals and can help students increase endurance and mental toughness. A cross country race is usually 5K (3.1 miles) for high school students and 3K (1.86 miles) for middle school students. The cross country season typically starts in September and ends in November. During a race, individuals and/or teams compete against one another to earn the fewest points.

Location and Course

Pick an outdoor location that is safe and accessible. Cross country courses typically include hills and flat areas through fields and wooded trails. You can use a measuring wheel to establish a course. If you don't already have a course in mind, contact your local parks department to identify potential parks or venues for your event and to get information on any permits you may need to secure.

  • The standard distance for a cross country race is 5K (3.1 miles) for high school students and 3K (1.86 miles) for middle school students, but the distance can be modified slightly to suit your students' needs.
  • Make sure to measure the course accurately.
  • Clearly identify the start and finish lines and mark the entire course for race day using cones or chalk.
  • If participants will be out of sight for all or part of the race, plan on having plenty of marshals to guide runners and monitor the course./li>

Organizing Heats

If you will have a lot of participants and/or a narrow course, split the participants into groups, known as heats, and start heats one at a time.

  • We suggest no more than 50 runners per heat.
  • Decide in advance how to organize heats. You can divide participants by gender, grade, age, or skill, or randomly.
  • Plan on a way to identify and separate heats. One option is to have signed areas where each group can congregate, and walk each group to the start for their heat. Another possibility is to distribute colored or numbered stickers or wristbands to identify each heat, which you can then check as runners line up to run.
  • Gather each heat 15 minutes before its start time.
  • If you have time, start each heat so it finishes before the next one begins. If you are tight on time, try to space heats several minutes apart to minimize runners in later heats overtaking those in earlier heats.


Here are suggestions for timing a cross country race:

  • Designate a timer at the finish line. Use a printing stopwatch or a timing app to record each runner’s place and time; Access this information to compile results.
  • If you are not using the previously mentioned equipment above you can assign a timer and a recorder and have the timer call out times as runners finish for the recorder to write down; use this information to compile results.

Whichever timing method you use, enlist several adults at the finish area to keep runners organized. When runners cross the finish line, have the adults keep them in order and note their finish places, names, and teams. Expedite this process by giving runners a sticker before the race with their name and team that you can remove at the finish line and record on paper. If you don't have stickers, use a stack of pre-numbered index cards, indicating finish places, and hand them to runners as they finish. Runners can then proceed to a finish table to fill out their names and teams on the card. You can later match the finishers' names and places to the times on the stopwatch or app.


For groups of kids ages 12 and older, cross country races can be scored individually and/or by team. A runner receives points based on their finishing place; the team with the lowest score wins. If your cross country event does not include teams, each individual’s place is their score. Boys’ and girls’ races are scored separately, whether or not they run together.

Here’s how to score a standard cross country race:

  • A standard cross country team has seven scoring runners. You can allow teams with more runners as well as non-affiliated individuals, but they will not be considered in the team scoring.
  • The first five runners' scores are included in the team score. For example, if Team A's runners finish 2nd, 7th, 8th, 12th, 18th, 30th, and 31st, Team A receives 47 points (2+7+8+12+18 = 47). The team with the lowest score wins.
  • Each scoring runner receives points corresponding to their overall place among other scoring runners. For example, if Team A has eight runners that finish in 1st through 8th place, and Team B's fastest runner finishes 9th, Team B’s top runner receives 8 points because Team A’s eighth runner is not included in the scoring. In the event of a tie, you may consider including sixth and seventh place runners in team scores to determine a winner.
  • While the sixth and seventh runners do not count toward their team’s score, they can still help their team win. If the sixth runner on Team A finishes before the fifth runner on Team B, that Team A runner increases Team B's score.


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