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What are the best XC courses in the US?

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  • What are the best XC courses in the US?

    It's that time of year. I'm no expert on the best ones in the country, but someone out there probably has an opinion about this. Of the ten courses I ran on in HS races, all but one were fairly non-descript, with no great distinguishing features to recommend them. I've watched meets at UNC, Duke, Indiana, and Colorado, saw one of Pat Porter's umpteen TAC wins in Raleigh (St. Mary's campus? 1986?), went to the 2002 NCAA in Terre Haute, and the US Trials in Boulder this year. I doubt any of those courses would rank in the top 10 in the country.

    It seems like a good XC course should be good in three ways. One, for the competitors, it should have variety of terrain and some difficulty, i.e. hills, but should not be absurdly difficult. Two, it should be spectator friendly, allowing one to see the runners a number of times up close without having to run a four minute mile while watching, and at times allowing some viewing of the pack from a distance so you can still follow the race. And third, a nice setting is good, i.e. trees and hills and creeks and a paucity of roads and sidewalks and such. Being outstanding in one of these might preclude being outstanding in another. For instance, the course in Chapel Hill was on the univeristy golf course, set in the middle of this huge pine forest. Really beautiful, but the runners would disappear on one of the loops for a mile at a time, emerge and be visible for a half minute, then disappear for another five minutes. On the other hand, one can catch the runners up close in Terre Haute about 14 times in a 10K race, but the setting is pretty bland, just out in the middle of this huge field, and the course doesn't really have any sharp hills or unique features. I vaguely remember Indiana's course as being pretty good overall.

    So what are the best cross country courses in the US and why? Any pictures to support your nomination?

  • #2
    Another criterion on the runner's side: it can't have choke points which make passing impossible for long stretches of the race. This was a loud criticism about "legendary" Van Cortland Park as I recall.

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    • #3
      Re: What are the best XC courses in the US?

      Originally posted by DrJay
      So what are the best cross country courses in the US and why? Any pictures to support your nomination?
      The 1975 NCAAs at Penn State was the template for all courses to follow. Open start. A wide well-marked course over varied terrain and spectator friendly.



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      • #4
        Re: What are the best XC courses in the US?

        Originally posted by malmo
        The 1975 NCAAs at Penn State was the template for all courses to follow. Open start. A wide well-marked course over varied terrain and spectator friendly.
        You missed a pic :wink:




        http://www.kasich.net/1975.html (Get those hankies ready lol)
        https://twitter.com/walnuthillstrak

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        • #5
          Re: What are the best XC courses in the US?

          Originally posted by DrJay
          ...
          It seems like a good XC course should be good in three ways. One, for the competitors, it should have variety of terrain and some difficulty, i.e. hills, but should not be absurdly difficult. Two, it should be spectator friendly, allowing one to see the runners a number of times up close without having to run a four minute mile while watching, and at times allowing some viewing of the pack from a distance so you can still follow the race. And third, a nice setting is good, i.e. trees and hills and creeks and a paucity of roads and sidewalks and such.
          ...
          I vaguely remember Indiana's course as being pretty good overall.
          ...
          So what are the best cross country courses in the US and why?
          I have little experience with xc courses across the USA or anywhere else, but I have lots with Indiana U's course -- training on it, racing some open races on it (post collegiate), and watching meets on it (NCAA & InHS). I think it meets the criteria you listed above. Good variation in terrain, lots of places to see runners, nice open setting near woods, and adjacent to a golf course but not on a golf course. No roads or sidewalks.

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          • #6
            Re: What are the best XC courses in the US?

            Originally posted by Master Po
            Originally posted by DrJay
            ...
            It seems like a good XC course should be good in three ways. One, for the competitors, it should have variety of terrain and some difficulty, i.e. hills, but should not be absurdly difficult. Two, it should be spectator friendly, allowing one to see the runners a number of times up close without having to run a four minute mile while watching, and at times allowing some viewing of the pack from a distance so you can still follow the race. And third, a nice setting is good, i.e. trees and hills and creeks and a paucity of roads and sidewalks and such.
            ...
            I vaguely remember Indiana's course as being pretty good overall.
            ...
            So what are the best cross country courses in the US and why?
            I have little experience with xc courses across the USA or anywhere else, but I have lots with Indiana U's course -- training on it, racing some open races on it (post collegiate), and watching meets on it (NCAA & InHS). I think it meets the criteria you listed above. Good variation in terrain, lots of places to see runners, nice open setting near woods, and adjacent to a golf course but not on a golf course. No roads or sidewalks.
            Way too many turns -- one of them (a right) comes up almost immediately.

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            • #7
              certainly lots of turns on IU's course, but as it's been laid out in recent years, it's straight ahead (flat then up a hill) for the first 800-900m, then a hard left.

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              • #8
                The Uof Kansas course on Bob Timmon's farm has to be one of the best.

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                • #9

                  Garin Park course in Northern California -- Mariner Invitational and some home meets for a local school there.

                  Ivan Huff and Jim Sorensen are the only two athletes who have ever broken 10.00 on the 2,1-mile course, and the varsity 3,1(4) mile course has had but two sub-16.00 times ever as far as I know. There:s an approximate 60-second conversion from the varsity Garin Park times to Woodward Park times.

                  Best places to watch the action are at the 1,75-mile mark, as you see the start to the first 0,6 of the race according to the map; you then see a section of the figure-eight; then the entire finish from about 2,45-mile onward.

                  From Dyestat:

                  All who raced spoke reverently of a course that heads out through a meadow, around a large pond, then heads up a big hill prior to swinging a figure eight loop along the crest of a coastal range that takes you out roughly a half mile in either direction before looping back to a common crossing point, then heading down to the finish. It is a great course for conditioned runners to face in late October, with the change to fall and a cool morning giving one the chance to test themselves in an invitational setting before looking to league and section competitions a couple weeks down the road. It is the time of season and this is a challenging enough course that coaches are not going to take chances on athletes with aches and pains that could grow into bigger problems after a challenging run, with the time to let it all hang out for everyone a couple weeks down the road in section championship action.

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                  • #10
                    Re: What are the best XC courses in the US?

                    Originally posted by guru
                    You missed a pic :wink:
                    I missed two.



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                    • #11
                      Isn't that John Lucas in the right background behind Merrick?

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                      • #12
                        Re: What are the best XC courses in the US?

                        Originally posted by DrJay
                        It's that time of year. I'm no expert on the best ones in the country, but someone out there probably has an opinion about this. Of the ten courses I ran on in HS races, all but one were fairly non-descript, with no great distinguishing features to recommend them. I've watched meets at UNC, Duke, Indiana, and Colorado, saw one of Pat Porter's umpteen TAC wins in Raleigh (St. Mary's campus? 1986?), went to the 2002 NCAA in Terre Haute, and the US Trials in Boulder this year. I doubt any of those courses would rank in the top 10 in the country.

                        It seems like a good XC course should be good in three ways. One, for the competitors, it should have variety of terrain and some difficulty, i.e. hills, but should not be absurdly difficult. Two, it should be spectator friendly, allowing one to see the runners a number of times up close without having to run a four minute mile while watching, and at times allowing some viewing of the pack from a distance so you can still follow the race. And third, a nice setting is good, i.e. trees and hills and creeks and a paucity of roads and sidewalks and such. Being outstanding in one of these might preclude being outstanding in another. For instance, the course in Chapel Hill was on the univeristy golf course, set in the middle of this huge pine forest. Really beautiful, but the runners would disappear on one of the loops for a mile at a time, emerge and be visible for a half minute, then disappear for another five minutes. On the other hand, one can catch the runners up close in Terre Haute about 14 times in a 10K race, but the setting is pretty bland, just out in the middle of this huge field, and the course doesn't really have any sharp hills or unique features. I vaguely remember Indiana's course as being pretty good overall.

                        So what are the best cross country courses in the US and why? Any pictures to support your nomination?
                        Historical guy here:
                        Golden Gate Park, San Francisco (Duncan McDonald, Mitch Kingery et a)l:

                        I ran this same "real xc" through all kinds of terrain in good ole GG Park, and it was tough, even without the downpouring rain)
                        and Pre's Trail, Eugene. They had a great all-comers race--about 7 mi's on Pre's Trail during the 76 trials.


                        jimEpics

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                        • #13
                          Probably the best known HS course or best known invite is MtSac. It is not particularly scenic and has a stretch along a road bed (course is different than the 2 and ~2.15 courses I ran back in the 60s) but it has been run by 100,000s.

                          Wisconsin is introducing a course next to it University Ridge Golf Course that is in rolling terrain with loops (picture on the website).

                          The course over near Racine/Milwaukee is used for a lot of nationals (DII?), I think, what do people think of that route?

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by dj
                            Isn't that John Lucas in the right background behind Merrick?
                            My God, yes it is. Hadn't noticed it. He was my racewalking coach when I was at Penn State for grad school. All-around great person.

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                            • #15
                              Not necessarily speaking out on the "best" (malmo already pointed out a flaw he sees in one of the listed), but what parks/schools have more or less dedicated XC courses (not golf courses or temporary layouts)?

                              I can think of:

                              Iowa State
                              Indiana State
                              Indiana
                              Kansas
                              Oklahoma State
                              Colorado?
                              Lehigh
                              VCP (perhaps a bit of a stretch)
                              Mt. SAC
                              Wisconsin-Parkside

                              What obvious ones am I missing? The Oregon layout I know of in Alton Baker Park was very temporary as of perhaps 10 years ago. The famous or often-run layouts at Penn State, Furman, Stanford, and Arizona utilize golf courses for at least portions, and Franklin Park crosses athletic fields a few times, iirc.

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