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How to Organize a Cross Country Meet

Laura is the mother of two active sports kids, a youth basketball coach, and a hockey mom.

The start line of a cross country race

The start line of a cross country race

Organizing a cross country meet is similar to planning a large event, because it is one. There are many factors that require planning to successfully manage a high-quality meet. Make sure to plan your meet in advance to avoid chaos. Keep a notebook and use the handy checklist below to ensure you have all your bases covered.

The Basics of Race Planning

Be smart and plan ahead. If you are organizing a middle school or high school cross country meet for your school, plan your team's schedule in the off-season. Select your event dates and check to make sure there are no other school conflicts; i.e., teacher workdays, placement tests, PSATs, or SATs. Next, check the course availability and invite your desired opponents. Keep track of which teams will be attending. Ask each team to send you their roster or let you know approximately how many runners they will have so you can make appropriate plans for the course, as well as parking at the race.

The final stretch of a cross country race

The final stretch of a cross country race

Define the Cross Country Racecourse

If you are not familiar with the required length of the course for your school or age group, contact your athletic director or view the recommendations of USA Track and Field. Typically, a middle school race is no more than a 3K or 1.86 miles, whereas a high school race is a 5K or 3.10 miles.

Measure your course so you know exactly where the start and finish line should be to fulfill the distance requirement. Also, take into consideration that spectators and parents love to watch the kids run. Everyone appreciates a spectator-friendly course. The nature of cross country is to run through the woods on trails and come into contact with the least amount of paved surfaces as possible.

Determine Volunteer Positions

Any event involving a few hundred people needs volunteers in place to help it run smoothly; a cross country race is no different. Some volunteer positions may include:

  • Course monitors: Placed at various points on the course, monitors guide runners and are on hand in case of injuries.
  • Timers: Operate the time machines.
  • Chute monitors: Keep the runners in place after crossing the finish line.
  • Race recorders: Hand out numbers as runners finish and keep records.
  • Race official: Start the race and announce results.
  • Scorekeepers: Tally the official team scores and determine the winning race team.
  • First aid: Tend to scrapes and other injuries.
  • Setup and cleanup crew: Set up course markers, cones, and flags where needed.

Make sure to thank all of the volunteers following each event for their time and contribution to the race.

Race volunteer helping a runner

Race volunteer helping a runner

Cross Country Race Planning Checklist

Check When CompleteDateTask


3-4 months in advance

Set date of meet


3-4 months in advance

Reserve course


3-4 months in advance

Invite other teams


3-4 months in advance

Secure parking


1 month in advance

Confirm attendance with other teams


1 month in advance

Plan course


1 month in advance

Define volunteer needs


2 weeks in advance

Obtain volunteers


1 week in advance

Send directions and meet information to other teams


1 week in advance

Construct finish chute


1 week in advance

Make course signs


1 week in advance

Design and print scoring sheets


2 days prior

Inspect course


2 days prior

Confirm volunteers and convey instructions


1 day prior

Check batteries and paper supply in timing machine


Hours before race

Mark course


1 hour before race

Set up results area


1 hour before race

Set up chute


45 minutes before race

Do walk-thru with runners and place course monitors on trail


45 minutes before race

Meet with coaches and give instruction


10 minutes before race

Have all volunteers check in to positions


Start race



After race

Tally results


After race

Announce results


After race

Clean up

Race Day Supplies

Depending on your budget, your race equipment can be professional or homemade as long as it gets the job done. You will need the following:

  • Spray paint to mark the start line, finish line, and certain areas on the course
  • Cones or stringed flags to place along the sides of the finish area to keep spectators off the course
  • A tent or canopy with a table and chairs is helpful to have as a scorers table and first aid area
  • A megaphone, whistle, or microphone is handy to make announcements
  • Scorers sheets
  • Calculator
  • Race numbers
  • A timing machine, stopwatch, or cell phone with a timer app

How to Score a Cross Country Meet

In most middle school or high school cross country events, the top five runners from each team contribute to the actual team score. The team score is calculated by adding the top five places of each team. For example, in the example below, the top five runners on the Triangle Champions team came in 2nd, 4th, 6th, 12th, and 25th place, for a team score of 49. The scores of the sixth and seventh place runners for each team are only used in case of a tie. The team with the lowest score is the winner of the race. Although the place of the sixth through tenth runners is not used in the actual score, it is very important to the success of the team, as these runners are displacing the competition.

Cross country race team results

Cross country race team results

For a Successful Race, Be Prepared

Excellent organizational skills and advanced planning will ensure a successful meet. In addition, it is always a good idea to have extra volunteers on hand in case you need to make unexpected accommodations. In case Mother Nature throws you a curveball and you need to postpone or cancel the event, be sure to have the cell phone numbers of the opposing teams' coaches so you can quickly contact them. After all your advance planning is complete, you can feel confident that the race will be well "run."

Questions & Answers

Question: How many timers do I need for 3 students for a cross country meet?

Answer: Two timers is sufficient. one main time and a backup.

Question: Are there guidelines as far as elevations, hills, terrain (sand, roots, etc) for cross country meets?

Answer: It is natural for a cross country course to have all of those elements. The one that can be potential hazards, like roots, should be clearly marked and have a course monitor in that area. Roots or rocks can be spray painted with red paint so they can be easily seen and therefore avoided. On the course walkthrough, anything unusual about the course should be announced to the runners.

Question: How many timers do I need for 20 schools participating in a cross country meet?

Answer: Two timers should be sufficient. It will be hard if a pack comes across the finish at the same time, but that is always the case, no matter how many timers. You really need one and a backup.


JT on September 25, 2019:

What do you typically discuss in a coaches meeting before the race?

Ajay on September 24, 2019:

What starts an event? A whistle?

Stone Johnson on September 05, 2016:

Thank you this will be so helpful with my Cross Country Meet on October 1st.

LauraGSpeaks (author) from Raleigh, NC on September 10, 2012:

Natashalh, I am glad you find the table handy. Its all the little details that can make or break any event! jellygator, my running days are over too, but I love to watch the meets. Its inspiring to me to watch these kids run. Thanks for reading!

jellygator from USA on September 09, 2012:

I get short of breath just reading about stuff like this! I can't imagine my asthmatic butt actually doing things like this, but this is a really useful guide for anyone who does.

Natasha from Hawaii on September 07, 2012:

I love the table! That would be super helpful for anyone planning a race.