How long is a cross country race? The distances and all you need to know

How long is a cross country race? The distances and all you need to know

Steve Njuguna
June 5, 2023 at 10:25 AM

Some people often assume that a cross country race is a race that involves running across a whole country! Today we debunk this notion by discussing how long a cross country race is and looking at the history of the discipline.

Athletes participate in a cross country race
Cross country is a favourite pastime for many fitness lovers. Photo By Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Source: Getty Images

Cross country running has been happening for centuries, but the first formal championships were in Wimbledon in 1837. Since 1973, the IAAF has run the World Cross Country Championships.

How long is a cross country race?

Races are split into different categories based on gender, age, experience and terrain. Standard race categories are 6 and 8 kilometres but in professional races; there are some 10 km and 12 km races.

What are the cross country rules?

Different formats have different rules. According to the IAAF, athletes cannot deviate from the marked track or risk disqualification. There is also a water station for athletes every lap.

How long is the average cross country race?

The average race is split between 6 and 8 km. Some junior categories range between 2km and 6km.

How long is a cross country race in high school?

Cross country running in US high schools is capped at 3.1 miles (5 kilometres). The course is plotted along grassy areas and also hilly regions.

How long is a cross country race in middle school?

Middle school races are usually 1.8 miles (3 kilometres). Their courses are also much shorter to cater for kids and teenagers. The slopes are also much less steep.

How long is a cross country race in college?

In NCAA colleges, it is done in 5k and 10k categories. Running well in school competitions boosts an athlete's ability to be selected for the national team.

College Cross Country athletes
Matthew Pereira #640 of the Harvard Crimson and Cormac Dalton #858 of the Golden Hurricane finish the 2021 NCAA College Division II Men's Cross Country Championship in Tallahassee, Florida. Photo by Jason Parkhurst/NCAA
Source: Getty Images

How long is a cross country race time?

Race times depend on varying kilometres covered. Most races end within a few minutes because it is in a predetermined course.

How long is a cross country race in primary school?

The recommended running distance for students between years 3-6 is 1.2 km to 2.5 km. How long a typical cross country race is adjusted upwards as students progress in age.

How long is a cross country race in miles?

Here are the several categories of races converted from kilometres to miles. Races in the US and Canada are measured in miles, while in other areas, they are measured in kilometres.




3.7 miles


4,3 miles


6,2 miles


7.4 miles

How long is an Olympic cross country race?

The road version of the discipline was present in the Olympics from 1912 to 1924. It was suspended in 1924 after several athletes passed away of exhaustion. The race was five miles long and limited to a men's section. From 1924 onwards, it has been a constant fixture of the Winter Olympics.

What are the World Cross Country Championships?

The World Championship is a biennial cross country tournament that has been happening since 1973. There are several categories, including men, women and mixed categories. Athletes from Eastern African countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda dominate the competition. Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele is the most successful athlete in the competition, with 12 senior men's titles during his career.

Who are the best cross country runners?

The sport has seen some legendary athletes over the years. Here are the three best cross country runners in its history:

3. Haile Gebreselassie

Ethiopia's Gebreselassie is widely considered the greatest distance runner of all time. He won silver at the 1992 World Cross Country Championships in Boston and Bronze in 1994 in Budapest. Outside the cross country, Haile won four World Championship titles and two Olympic titles in the men's 10000 metres.

Haile Gebreselassie
Haile Gebreselassie at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Photo by Stu Forster
Source: Getty Images

2. Paul Tergat (Kenya)

Tergat is considered one of the best long-distance runners in athletics history. Between 1995 and 1999, Paul won five consecutive World cross country titles, a feat only exceeded by Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele. Tergat set the world marathon record in 2003 at the Berlin marathon.

Paul Tergat
Tergat celebrates after winning the IAAF World X-Country Championships for the fifth time in 1999 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo by Craig Prentis /Allsport
Source: Getty Images

1. Kenenisa Bekele

Bekele is the best cross country runner in history. He has won a record 12 cross country gold medals in a career that spanned between 2001 and 2008.

Cross country is a fun and interactive way of exercising at an amateur level and an exciting piece of entertainment to watch at a professional level. For every aspiring runner, that is how long a cross country race is and all the other details about the discipline.

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Steve Njuguna
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