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5 Challenges to do if Your Cross Country Season is Canceled

A runner jumps over a log in the woods

Cross country, by nature, is unpredictable. Each course is different. You might race on groomed grassy hills, single-track that snakes through the woods, or a field full of mud. That unpredictability is part of cross country’s charm. What’s not-so-charming is the uncertainty that surrounds cross country season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If your season is cancelled, what can you do?

For one thing, you can keep training. Running is good for your immune system. It burns stress and generally helps you feel better. Training won’t be the same without your teammates by your side every day, but with some extra effort and creativity, you can work to stay connected and keep each other’s spirits up. Here are some ways to keep the fun and the motivation alive.

1. Get the lowest score

Create team-based competitions using the cross country point-scoring system. Jenny Simpson says that scoring points for her team was a huge motivator for her at the end of every cross country race.

Apply this concept to key workouts and time trials for your team. You can use Strava segments or keep it simple and simply time yourself and compare splits. Award points to each participant based on their time trial finish times or average workout pace. The first place finisher gets one point, the second place finisher two points, and so on. The lowest team score wins.

You can also put a twist on this and award points based on how consistently each runner completed each repeat in a workout, or how close a runner was to a predicted goal pace.

The point here is to motivate healthy, consistent training and a team atmosphere. Have fun and challenge yourself, but avoid overtraining or blasting one repeat as fast as possible at the expense of your overall training.

2. Hide a Can of Tomato Paste

For many teams, the goofy games and inside jokes are what make the season so much fun. Try this socially distant running-based game to keep the fun alive.

Pick an object to hide. Maybe it’s a race medal, something symbolic to your team, or simply an item that nobody will want to steal if they find it. One running club in Chapel Hill, NC plays this game using a can of tomato paste.

Hide your object in a safe area where your teammates can run to find it. Take a photo of the item and send it, along with a clue or two, to your teammates. See who can crack the code and run to find it first. The winner takes a triumphant selfie with the found item, then hides it again to start the next round.

This is a fun way to stay connected on your easy run days, or add in some extra miles while you keep the team spirit and banter alive. Share on a text chain or online group chat.

3. Squat it out online

Try a new strength and mobility workout online with your friends each week. Yes, you may be tired of Zoom meetings. But this will be more fun, keep your body balanced and potentially introduce you to a new favorite form of cross training. If you can do it safely, skip the screen and sweat it out in person (with plenty of space) outdoors.

Lupita Hernandez, who runs with Achilles International in Tucson, Arizona, says she has been using Zoom to stay in touch with her teammates during the pandemic. It’s been a time of exploration for them to bond in new ways and try different activities. Find fun workout videos online like the ones on our YouTube channel follow-along playlist.

4. Pass the (virtual) baton

Sign up for an official virtual race, or create your own challenge with your friends. The benefit of a relay is that it is more team-oriented, like cross country. You can commit to a distance to hit collectively over the course of a week or a month, and it’s much more motivating when your teammates are counting on you. Consider an event that supports a good cause or teaches you something along the way.

5. Send a cute puppy pic

When you go for a run, take note of things that make you happy, and share the positivity with your teammates. Research shows that expressing gratitude can make you happier, improve relationships and help you face adversity. That’s something we can all use right now. Pay attention to things like the smell of flowers, ripe berries along your path, a cute dog, a colorful sunrise, the feel of a new pair of shoes, a day when you just feel strong. Take a photo or simply share your thoughts with your teammates. Try to notice something new every day. It will help you stay positive and connected to each other regardless of how tough things may get.

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