Your first race is probably coming up in about a month. Yikes! What will it be like? How do I warm up? When is my race?
If you are new to cross-country, you will have many questions like these. Your first race might be just a small gathering against a few other schools, or it could be a huge invitational. Let's review the different kinds of races you will probably run.
Dual or 3-Way Meet
This kind of meet is simply a race against one or two other schools. There won't be many runners, and the timing and scoring is likely to be done by hand. Announcements will be made informally, with one of the coaches simply shouting something like, "OK, varsity girls, your race starts in 10 minutes!" Once everyone gets to the starting line, one of the coaches, who will act as the starter, may give some basic instructions, like an overview of the course or a reminder not to cut in front of another runner. Then he or she will step out of the way, and say something like "Runners to your mark; GO!" Off you'll go. When you finish, the coaches who act as scoring officials will have some way to record your place and time. The old school way is to have the runners stay in a line in the order they finish, and hand each runner a popsicle stick with the number of their finishing place on it. You will take the stick to a scoring table where someone will record your name, school, and place. Once everyone finishes, they will tally up which team won the race.
Center Meet or League Meet
This meet is similar to a dual meet, but involves more schools. With more schools, there will be more runners and they may split into more divisions (e.g., separate freshmen and sophomore races instead of a frosh-soph combined race). The starts may be a little more formal, but will still probably be done simply by a coach from one of the participating schools. The scoring logistics could be the old school method described above, or it could be a little more formal, like using bib numbers with tear-off tags.
These are big, sometimes huge, events with dozens of schools competing. The atmosphere is usually more formal (and exciting!), with announcements made by experienced race announcers over loudspeakers, perhaps more than one race for each division, and more formal scoring and timing (often using electronic timing chips).
Runners often feel differently about these different types of meets. Some runners like the smaller meets because they're more down-to-earth, but some don't like these because they might feel they are obligated to perform better, maybe even win. These latter runners may like the bigger meets better because there might be less pressure to win, given the tougher competition. Some runners don't like the biggest races because they worry about getting trampled.
Warming up should be easy - your coach will tell you what to do, but it will probably be about the same as what you do to warm up before every workout.
How to Race
I will write more about specifics of racing through the season, but your best approach is to listen to your coach. He or she will probably have some specific recommendations for specific races. Often, early season races, especially smaller ones, allow opportunities for runners to try different approaches like starting out faster or slower than you would otherwise.
"When is My Race?"
This is something that, as a coach, I hear more often than anything else. My usual answer is, "I have no idea." That usually isn't completely true, but the reason for it is that meets usually have an order of races, but not specific starting times. Each race starts a few minutes after the previous one ends. Because you never know when any given race will be complete (i.e., when the last runner will finish), you don't know when the next one will start. There can also be technical glitches that slow things down. The best solution is to listen when your coach tells you the order of races, then keep track of where the meet is, how long each race is taking, etc. After a few meets, you'll get the hang of how they go.
Watching the Action
One of the best things about races is that you will have a chance to watch your teammates and other runners race. Besides the fact that cheering for others is fun, you can learn a lot about racing by watching others. Where do various runners position themselves in the pack, and how does that work out for them? When are the most successful runners speeding up on a specific course? When does everyone start their sprint for the finish?
Let the season begin!!