Cross Country Running

How it works

Races, for both teams and individuals, are run on either grass or woodland courses and might also include stretches of gravel paths, road and hills. Races usually take place in the winter months, outside the usual track and field season. 

The IAAF recommend for international competitions that there is a main course loop of between 1750m and 2000m with natural obstacles used where possible, and the likes of deep ditches, dangerous ascents and descents as well as thick undergrowth should be avoided.


The first international cross country race was staged in 1898 at Ville d'Avray, France. The first International Cross Country Championships (the forerunner to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships) was held five years later at Hamilton Park Racecourse in Scotland. The inaugural IAAF World Cross Country Championships took place on 17 March 1973 in the Belgian town of Waregem. Men's cross country races have also taken place at three summer Olympics, in 1912, 1920 and 1924. 

Did you know

The oldest gold medallist at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships is Jack Foster, who was part of New Zealand's triumphant 1975 team at 42 years and 297 days. Portugal's Carlos Lopes became the oldest individual winner when he won the third of his trio of titles in 1985 at 38 years and 34 days. At the other end of the spectrum, the youngest individual winner is Kenya's Lydia Cheromei, who took the 1991 junior women's title when she was just 13 years and 317 days. 

Gold standard

Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele has won 16 gold medals at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, 12 individual and four team wins. He achieved five consecutive double victories between 2002 and 2006 in both the long course and now-discontinued short course races. In addition, he got an unprecedented sixth senior men's long course victory in 2008 and won the 2001 junior title.


Paul Tergat

Although Kenenisa Bekele has gone on to win more gold medals, between 1995 and 1999 the affable and erudite Kenyan reigned utterly supreme and became the first man to win five consecutive world cross-country titles. His victories came in wildly varying conditions and on some different courses. Arguably Tergat's most impressive and memorable win was in 1996, when Cape Town was the host venue, when he won by 12 seconds after going through 10km in a stunning 27:57.

Grete Waitz

She found more international fame as a marathon runner during the early years of the boom in this event but the Norwegian was also a dominant figure at cross-country running. Winning five times in her seven outings at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, and finishing third on the other two occasions she competed, the average margin of her victories was 24.6 seconds. Waitz has the largest margin of victory in any race in the history of the championships when she came home 44 seconds ahead of her nearest rival in 1980.