It would be fair to say that running has really soared in popularity over the last few years. Once regarded as a so-called boring way to exercise, now it’s seen as the “on trend” thing to do.

In terms of specifics, cross country has really come into its own. Take a look around the country on any weekend and you’ll see scores of people heading around cross country tracks in a bid to keep fit.

One of the people you might have seen is Stephen Varanko III. This is someone who has taken a keen interest in the sport (you only have to take a look at his social profiles to see how much he promotes it!). Bearing this in mind, we have quizzed Stephen on his top tips to approach cross country running and ultimately get the best out of it.

Choose the right pair of spikes

There is an old saying that a good workman never blames his tools, but in the case of cross country running this isn’t strictly true. In actual fact, your equipment can matter, specifically in relation to your footwear and the spikes that are on it.

Specialist cross country spikes are absolutely essential, for the simple reason that they will provide you with the optimum grip on your track. In terms of the length of the spikes, this is something that we can’t help too much with. This will depend on how firm the course you are running on is. For example, if it’s particularly muddy you might need spikes as long as 15mm, but for drier conditions something more like 9mm is going to work better.

Try and walk the course before

This next suggestion is targeted towards those of you who are about to compete in a competitive cross country environment. If you fall into this category, you should aim to walk the course before your race begins.

The reason for this is simple; you need to gauge just how to approach it. For example, if you know that there are a lot of hills towards the end of a course, it goes without saying that you might need to preserve a little more energy to tackle them. You’ll only be able to do this if you arrive at the course with that “local knowledge”.

Use hills to your advantage

On the subject of hills, let’s hone in on them a little more here. A lot of cross country runners view them negatively but if you approach them correctly, you can use them to your advantage in the race environment.

As we all know, hills are something that slow us down. However, once you reach the top, now is the time to plough on and really get some distance ahead of those runners that are still attempting to navigate the hill. Sure, there will be lactic acid build-up and it will be hard, but battle through these moments as this period provides an excellent opportunity to gain headway.