The History of Cross Country Running

Cross Country running can be traced back almost two hundred years, a sport that is now loved by thousands around the world has its origins way back in the 19th century. Apparently joining the pack, taking hurdles and racing to the finish started in English public schools, when the runners were called harriers or hare hunters. These school kids were copying an occupation that their fathers enjoyed at the time, namely hunting.

The Hares

Two runners (normally older schoolchildren) were designated as the foxes or the hares and set off into the countryside ten minutes before the pack followed. As they ran they would lay a trail of shredded paper they carried in a bag slung around their shoulders, this paper trail was called laying a scent.

The Pack

The pack were children a few years younger who played the part of the bloodhounds of the hunt, chasing after the hare. Shrewsbury School in England is recognized as one of the originators of this sport, and it was a fun way of getting the children to partake in exercise imitating their fathers more dubious pastime. Members of the pack called themselves names like Challenger or Trojan to imitate dog’s names, and it was their job to follow the scent, working as a pack to make sure they had not lost the trail. The older pupils which were the hares would make it as difficult as possible for the pack to follow, jumping over fences and running across streams.

The Field

The field consisted of every other child at the school, they were normally the older students and it was their job to follow the pack. When they sighted the hares, the race took off in earnest, they were supposedly the huntsmen on horses. The expression being ahead of the field was spawned from this race, and it means you are winning the race. All these fun and games supposedly took place around 1825 or thereabouts, and it was the more fortunate children who were lucky to be able to attend such schools that had a chance to enjoy the early form of Cross Country.


Having a whole school rampaging through the English countryside was not considered particularly good form, and so these bastions of education started organizing more formal races that could be competed one school against another. These more formal races were called Steeplechases, which was again imitating their fathers pleasurable activities. This time it was the practice of horse racing from one village church steeple to another. The course this time was marked out, and students would run over hedges, fences and hurdles, rather like modern Cross Country today. It is rather bizarre that such a sport that is participated all over the world by kids and adults alike was formed from the practice of blood sports. No matter the origins, the fun and challenge of Cross Country is like no other type of race.

All types of athletes can participate as it is not just the fastest that wins every time, the challenges thrown up by the course bring other attributes into play, such as strength and endurance. Cross Country has a valid place in world sport and so let it continue.