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What Is cross country running?

Literally: Cross country running is a team sport that combines the individual efforts of a group of runners to determine the best squad.

In Minnesota, at the High School level, all official varsity meets will score the top seven runners from each team. This is why there is always a race designated as "varsity", and another- or potentially more than one- race designated as "junior varsity". An athlete cannot score points for the varsity team from any of the junior varsity races, no matter how fast they run.

The individual winner of the race scores one point for their team. The runner-up will score two points, three points for third place, and so on. When the top five runners for each team have been scored, they will receive a team score. The team with the lowest number of points is declared the winner. If there is a tie, the sixth runner from each of the tied teams is added to their respective totals. If still tied, the seventh runner is added. A typical cross country results sheet will look something like this:

Most often, basic strategy is simply to "run as fast as you can". However, when teams race against each other multiple times per season, year-in and year-out, they can gauge what results to expect from their opponents, and interesting strategies are sometimes employed in an effort to secure the best outcome for a given squad. No tricks- just things like: how fast to start, who to run behind, where on the course to make a move, etc. Running on the same courses repeatedly can also have a similar effect.

There is only one official "post-season" meet in Minnesota. To qualify for the State Meet, teams must score as either the champions or runners-up of their respective section. For cross country, St. Louis Park competes in the notoriously talented Section 6AA, sometimes referred to as the "Section of Death". No, that isn't a joke. Every October, several of the best teams in Minnesota will fail to qualify for State because only two are allocated for each gender from each of the eight sections. No at-large bids. No do-overs. No exceptions. The 2017 boys' competition saw four teams that were ranked as among the top twelve in the state left out of qualifying for the State Meet.

Outstanding individuals are given the opportunity to compete at the State Meet as a representative of their team. To earn a spot at State, a runner must be one of the top eight finishers not on either of the two qualifying teams at the section meet.

Philosophically: There is much more to what we do than physical training. Cross country running is one of the purest expressions of the human condition. The only elements present are the other competitors and a timekeeper. Each person deserves commendation for toeing the starting line. Running a cross country race is a commitment to push the very limits of one's physical and psychological stamina. It involves ignoring that voice in your head saying, "Stop!" even as the idea grows more and more appealing with each step. It's not pretty. It's not glamorous. It's not "cool". But anyone can choose to do it. And that makes it beautiful.