Cross-country running can be difficult. Terrain and weather can change at a moment's notice, and the potential for sprains, falls or other injuries increases the moment you leave the pavement for the trail. Although running on a track does not fully prepare you for running cross country, many runners frequently take to a track to complement their cross-country training while minimizing the risk of injury. Don't forget to take advantage of your "easy" days -- at least three non-consecutive days a week -- where you can simply rest or take a short 30 minute run. This enforced break will strengthen you for the days you do train hard.
A tempo run is one long cross-country training exercise you can do on a track. Start with five to 10 minutes of easy, warm-up jogging, then accelerate to or near the peak pace you would expect to run in a race. The goal is to sustain that pace for the bulk of the run, which should last at least 30 minutes. In the last five to 10 minutes, do a cool-down jog.
The track is an ideal venue for cross-country interval training, particularly because you can accurately account for the distance you run. Intervals incorporate speed training in various incarnations, characterized by fast repeats followed by slow recovery jogs. For example, you can run 400 meters--or one lap around the track--at race speed, followed by one lap of recovery. You can mix up interval training as well, incorporating repeats of 200 meters up to a mile. The goal is to improve your cross-country speed.
A fartlek, or "speed play" in Swedish, involves random bursts of speed interspersed throughout long runs. While many cross-country runners incorporate this kind of training into their trail or road runs, you can do a fartlek on the track as well. In the middle of a track run, increase your pace for any length or period of time. You can run faster for 100 meters, or you might decide to run an entire mile at increased speed. The length of each fartlek does not matter; what does matter is that you run faster several times over the course of a long run.
The track is an ideal location for a long run, especially if you might be recovering from an injury or simply hope to avoid hills or rough terrain. Given the track's exact distance -- one lap equals one-quarter mile -- it is also simple to track your mileage on long runs. Run for 60 minutes the first week and add on five minutes a week until you can run for 90 minutes. If running the track becomes too tedious, take your run to the roads or trails.
For the beginning cross-country runner, it can be safer to build up mileage on a track. All cross-country runners must build endurance and stamina, and elite runners are used to rough terrain. However, beginning runners are more vulnerable to unexpected injuries, because each foot-fall can be quite different from the last on a cross-country course. Starting on a track can help you build that critical base of mileage without the immediate concern of exposed roots, rocks and other hazards.