Running over the country side is one of the oldest sports known to man. However as a competitive athletic activity, it dates back only to 1837 with the “Crick Run” at Rugby School in England. The School ran a race called “Hares and Hounds.” A group of runners would take off and leave a trail of pieces of paper. They were the ‘hares.’ The ‘hounds’ would then follow the hares and try to catch them. This is the origin of the term ‘Harriers’ for cross-country runners. Since the hares and the hounds would travel over hedges and though creeks, the hares and hounds race led to a track event called the Steeplechase. In a track steeplechase, runners jump over barriers (hedges) and over a water jump (creeks).
In prehistoric times man ran what was similar to modern day cross country running as means of survival against enemies and wild beasts.
Runners were used as messengers in ancient civilizations. The most famous being the Greek soldier Philipides who, in 490 B.C., ran 26.2 miles from the Plains of Marathon to inform the populace of Athens of their victory over the Persians. This was the beginning of and basis for the modern day marathon race.
One of the most widely known “runs over the countryside” in early American history took place in 1737 and is attributed to the scheming of Thomas Penn, brother of William Penn. The historical Native American method of dividing land equitably was the walk from sunup to sundown. All of the land covered in one day would belong to the settlers. Thomas Penn conditioned three rugged colonists for two years in preparation for a cross country run. Instead of walking, the three colonists ran from sunup to sundown, much to the surprise of the Native Americans. The distance covered was approximately 70 miles.
The competitive sport of cross-country developed in the late 1880’s on the east coast but did not develop on a national scale until the 1950’s. Running over the hill and through the dale with a variety of terrains separates cross-country from other types of running.
The NCAA began cross-country in 1938. The PIAA began cross-country in 1939.
Cross-country has become an interscholastic, intercollegiate, and open activity for all ages, male and female. Due to the flexibility inherent in the activity, it has become widespread and engaged in almost everywhere-in city parks, at the beach, in the mountains, and even on the roads and highways. Runner’s activities for fitness and health have evolved from the competitive programs. The terms “Run for Fun” and “Run for Your Life” have become standard slogans on the front of running shirts. There are 5K and 10K races almost every weekend.
The future of running and walking looks bright as people become more health conscious.