Did anyone else have to do cross-country running at school ?

I’d forgotten about this for 20 years, which makes me think I somehow repressed the misery of it all.

I think it was on Wednesday afternoons that my year group donned cheap plimsolls, wafer thin t-shirts and baggy shorts before leaping out across the Sussex countryside in, what always seemed to be, absolutely torrential rain. For hours. And we did it for years between, I don’t know, 11 and 16 years old.

Even now, as I imagine the course and I simply can’t believe the distance we used to cover. Miles and miles of muddy, water-logged country paths, routes through forests, across streams…quite insane.

And it wasn’t as if there was a choice: The bulkiest boys, the plainly un-athletic, the flat-footed…everyone had to run on Wednesdays unless they were at deaths door.

Looking back, I wonder if it was actually a Good Thing and, in the early days, I think we all just accepted it. But towards the end it felt like military service.

Did every school have this, do they still ?

Did it at one secondary school in Surrey I went to. Hated it. Always finished second last. Sadistic bloody PE teachers.

Then I moved to Hampshire. One cross-country run in three years. The rest of the time it was rounders, hockey and basketball. Ah, the relief.

It was hell, especially for the asthmatic, eg me.

Yup - another victim of sadistic PE teachers checking in. Always used to be the winter term, come rain, hail or snow. Frankly, it put me off physical exertion for life…

It was a yearly thing at my grammar school. Held in February, for extra risk of pneumonia, and so the hayfever sufferers (like myself) couldn’t get out of it. Our whole year, en masse, shambling out across the playing fields and then through the woods behind the school, followed by a small but grimly determined pack of PE teachers, whose job was to prevent anyone taking short cuts and record the occasional death.

Ah, the joys of coming 148th out of 148, every bloody time… I did manage to escape it in 1981; I was excused on the grounds that my scrotum was held together with stitches at the time.

But, it was only annual. The rest of the time it was football or rugby in winter, tennis or cricket in the summer, and endless bloody laps of the playing fields at any time of the year. I’m sure they would have had the cross-country runs more often, if they hadn’t been worried about escapes…

Ah, New Romantic fashion.

They still do it. Or at least they still did when I left school five years ago.

The thing is, at my school it was optional. *And some people chose to do it. * Voluntarily cross-country running in Reading. These were the sort of girls who describe bitter winds as “bracing”.

I opted for squash, because the courts were at the university and no one supervised us so we could just bunk off. There were only five or six of us that caught on to this. And my school was supposed to be a good school.

Must be a Mother Land thing. In the US (at least Maryland) Cross Country was an extra-curricular like football, tennis, track, etc.

I ran >>-CC-> and loved it! Of course, I was in the Back Pack[sup]TM[/sup].

They do it outside the UK, too. :slight_smile:

Yup, ran a lot of what was called “Forest Runs” (Run Forest, Run!! :D). My school was in the middle of what is scientifically known as “a pathetic collection of halfdead trees”, you see. Hardly the bloody Amazon rain forest.

But anyways, we used to run a course of about 4 or 5 kilometers, once a week. The other weekly PE hour was spend on an actual sport, like footie, baseball, field hockey, basketball, et cetera.

By 'eck, Tansu. I’d forgotten the girl’s school down the road also did this. Oh the joy of seeing those corned beef-like legs! Sorry about the asthma but I can believe it wouldn’t excuse your participation

Steve - pah ! a stitched scrotum…what kind of excuse is THAT ??

Spot on, Crusoe. Sadistic bastards, everyone one of them.

The more I think about it, the more extraordinary it all was: Hundreds of boys ploughing their way through Somme-like mud in Chariots of Fire slow motion. More rain than Noah would know what to do with…

It’s now optional at some schools ?..the kids today…
Yep, but we did it with bloody great hills, Mr Coldfire. Those serious undulations like what you ain’t got
I seem to remeber that by aged 14, half of us used to stop for a fag break…until the teachers came around the bend then there was hell to pay…

Yeah, we stopped for fag breaks too. Usually, we hid underneath the glaciers covering the Dutch Alps. :wink:

Oh Christ, the memories. The legend, passed down from boy to slightly younger boy, was that in times of severely bad weather, the weekly cross country run would be cancelled. No one had ever seen it happen, of course, but there was always someone who’s older brother would swear that the storms of '76 or '85 or whenever had seen the run cancelled in favour of healthy indoor pursuits such as tiddlywinks.

I sat next to the window in French, last period. I would stare out at the weather (hail, driving rain, gale, unexpected shower of rottweilers) torn between hoping for a sudden and miraculous improvement or for some sort of apocalyptic deluge or new Ice Age which would force cancellation. Astonishingly, neither of these events ever came to pass.

Still, it made me the man I am today. A defence I intend to rely on in court.

At my school, they did let people stay in once in a while - you know, when the freezing fog was so thick even the PE teachers couldn’t find the playing fields, that sort of thing. That was when they let us stay in the halls and play ping-pong. It was the time of my one and only sporting triumph.

Some people in this thread know what I look like, and realise I’m not what you might call athletic. What they probably don’t realise is that, twenty-five years ago, I was a lot less athletic than I am now. My PE classes were, for me, an exercise in trying to look inconspicuous, because, if I ever got noticed, Bad Things would happen. (For instance, I’m the only person in the history of the school to break an arm [my own] during a piggy-back race.) I could be relied on to score worst and finish last in, well, just about everything.

But when it came to ping-pong - well, I have reasonably good reflexes, and good eyesight, so I didn’t start out quite as heavily disadvantaged in that particular sport. Nowhere near the top, of course, and not strange enough to be entertaining (we had one guy who could put so much topspin on the ball, it would bounce backwards when it landed. On a good day, he could get his serve to return itself.), but not absolute crap. And, of course, if you practice something, you get better at it…

So, one day in 1980 (this was before the scrotum incident, about which the less said the better), I was lined up for my ritual humiliation… I start off, manage to hit the ball over the net, not bad going for me… opponent returns it, I hit it back, win the point… win the next couple as well… in fact, do a quite creditable job of holding my serve… then, win a couple of points off his serve…

Before I know it, I’m actually ahead on points. And, as the game continues, I keep on being ahead. Somehow, it dawns on me, I’m winning

And I look over the net, and behind my opponent’s National Health specs, I can see the same dawning realization in his eyes…

The score reaches 18-12! Tradition demands I hum a few bars of a certain overture at this point… My serve. Low whimperings are coming from the other side of the net, as we reach 19-12… 19-13… 20-13… the whimperings are now audible pleadings, a prayer to the blind and capricious gods of PE. (Ha! I think, They don’t listen, my friend! They never listen! Who knows this better than I?) I serve. To and fro goes the ball, over the net again and again… my opponent is weakening, he lunges from side to side with increasing desperation as my play forces him slowly out of position… finally, the moment comes! The ball hurtles past my opponent’s bat, to clatter on the floor behind him! For the first time ever, victory is mine!

And, in the next moment, every head in the hall turns, as my opponent, quite literally, crumples to the floor, with a howl of anguish, despair and humiliation torn from the roots of his very soul…

Ah. PE. Wonderful stuff, teaches you teamwork, and respect for a worthy opponent, and the importance of Playing the Game. And if you believe that, there’s this bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

Yep, definitely a Europeon thing. In the winter, we stayed in the gym and played basketball, or something.
Granted, we’re talking about Illinois here - it’s hard to run cross country through knee-deep snow

I went to school in Maryland and we did cross country (and football and tennis, etc.) as units in our regular Phys Ed curriculum. (we called it gym class, though.)
I can remember running around the track. I think we had to do a mile in 10 minutes.


Steve, that was a great story. I remember the days when we used to play table tennis in the 6th form common room. I was a kind of average player too.

Anyone who has met me will realise I am built for rugby (which I used to love playing, haven’t played in a while though).

We used to do cross country too. I often came in the last group of people, long after the first few had finished. We mainly ran around the school fields a couple of times, but we did have a course which was about 3 miles long. It was called the motorway course because it went over a couple of motorway footbridges. Looking back on it, it was not the safest of courses what with all the busy road we used to run along/over.

I think we did cross country for about 3 years, then we got to choose the stuff we did in PE so most people picked football, rugby or something indoors.


I hated, hated, hated cross-country running! The only thing I really remember of it is running in the freezing, pouring rain with my corned beef legs (thanks London_ -Calling! :)) getting number by the minute. I soon got very good at forging my mums writing for letters excusing me from the class.

Corned beef legs, brilliant indeed.

Speaking of state sponsored torture of adolescents: does anyone remember the Cooper test?

And, worse: the dreaded shuttle run test?

Was that like the Richmond tests, with the pencilled-in sausages?

Or am I barking up the wrong tree here?