By Thelma Wright for the Vancouver Sun, August 17, 2009

Perhaps the ultimate benefit to trail running races is the freedom to run in the beautiful trails and parks our cities have to offer.

The loneliness of a long distance runner does not apply to cross-country runners.

Unique in its team concept, cross-country running affords the camaraderie of teammates while testing one’s own limits in running over hill and dale, through forest trails, farmers’ fields, mud and rocks, for distances ranging from a few kilometres to 10 or 12 kilometres.

Cross-country running is perhaps the oldest pursuit known to man, reaching back to early hunters and gatherers, messengers in ancient Rome, and the pursuit of excellence in the early Olympic Games.

Whether you have trained to complete your first 10-km Sun Run or have run more than a few marathons, cross-country running can be a whole new challenge which includes teamwork and a lot of fun.

Athletes will often find they reach a plateau in their road running, that merely putting one foot in front of the other in a monotonous pace, day after day, mile after mile, no longer gives them the “runner’s high” or euphoria once felt.

Most cross-country races in B.C. are in scenic parks with great fall weather and lots of undulating but relatively easy courses. A special kind of “high” is felt by cross-country runners who have pushed themselves to the limits on a hilly course in extreme weather. Cross-country allows for variety in terrain, the challenge of steep terrain and sometimes obstacles, much like a steeplechase in horse racing.

As a result, the race is much more tactical than road or track races where athletes try to keep to an even pace. Athletes will vary their pace to take advantage of downhill stretches or the wind, to catch up, or to force the pace from the front.

At the international level, cross-country running could perhaps best be compared to cycling’s Tour de France. Like the Tour de France, tactics are involved and often team mates will sacrifice themselves to pace their chosen leader, breaking the wind or pushing the pace to burn off other competitors’ finishing kicks.

Perhaps the ultimate joy of cross-country running is the freedom to run in the beautiful trails and parks our cities have to offer.

Whether it is the manicured and well-trodden trails of Stanley Park; the wooded paths of Vancouver’s Pacific Spirit Park and Coquitlam’s Mundy Park; the North Shore’s hilly Lynn Valley and Capilano trails; the flat and open trails of Jericho Beach, Ambleside, Crescent Beach and White Rock’s Ocean Park; or the new and very special Whistler Olympic Park with its amazing vistas in the Callaghan Valley, cross-country running affords everyone a chance to enjoy super-natural beautiful B.C. on the run.