Great Cross Country Courses: The Midwest

After a few days busy with non-blog items, I’m back at it with more in this series of the nation’s great cross country courses.

More than just OK: Oklahoma State Cross Country Course

Nominated by “lonewolf”, message boards

The Oklahoma State Cowboys host what they claim to be the oldest cross country invitational in the nation, the Cowboy Jamboree. The OSU course takes in a variety of surfaces and surroundings in its main 5 km loop. It is situated on land that had once been the university’s nine-hole golf course, just north of student housing and adjacent to the university president’s home. The combination of an on-campus location and its singular running purpose means that it is a popular running spot for everyone in Stillwater.

The course combines a flat, wide-open area with a rolling and twisty path through a wooded area. The open portion includes a run along a white rail fence, a nice touch for a course that has a country atmosphere to it. The wooded area includes multiple crossings of a creekbed. The most distinctive feature of the course is three sets of stairs, each with three steps (although I’m not sure that those stairs still exist).

Here’s the course from the runners’ perspective, from Flotrack’s coverage of the 2011 Cowboy Jamboree.

Made for TV: Zimmer Championship Course

Wisconsin has been a dominant cross country program for decades, but only now do they have a home course that lives up to that tradition. From

In the process of being interviewed for the job as the women’s track and cross country coach at the University of Wisconsin five years ago, Jim Stintzi was outspoken about the fact his alma mater was lacking in appropriate facilities.

In a meeting with UW athletic director Barry Alvarez, Stintzi was asked how he felt about having home cross country meets. The question was posed knowing full well the men’s and women’s programs didn’t ordinarily have meets in Madison because they hadn’t had a bona fide home in decades.

“I said, ‘As an alum, it’s kind of embarrassing that we don’t have any,’ ” Stintzi recounted. “He said, ‘Good, get it done.’ ”

That directive evolved into a plan, which led to years of ideas and meetings, which gave way to the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course at University Ridge.

In fact, when the course opened in 2009, it was the first meet held on the UW campus since the 1940s.

The course, which cost between $250,000 and $300,000 to build, features inner and outer loops that make it easy for fans to see the races, along with a few trips into wooded areas. All in all, it’s a great facility, but especially from the perspective of television production. The first dedicated broadcast of the Big Ten Cross Country Championships was from this course in 2010. And the Badgers are probably the only cross country team in the nation that actually brings a crowd and needs a big-time home facility to satisfy the fans.

The Zimmer course is not without its issues; there is no on-site parking nor electricity, and a generator problem at this year’s Adidas Invitational caused chip timing to fail, and it took hours for results to be figured out via video. Once these get ironed out, though, the NCAA Championships will almost certainly come here.

Here is a course preview from Flotrack’s coverage of this year’s Adidas Invitational.

For High School Dreamers: Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course

The Wayne E. Dannehl course is a dedicated cross country course on the west side of the UW-Parkside campus in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It has hosted every Foot Locker Midwest regional ever held, as well as 27 NAIA Championships (22 straight from 1981 to 2002).

It’s a classic midwestern course, not far from Chicago and very close to the Lake Michigan shore. The start is in a wide clearing, which gradually narrows and eventually becomes just a tunnel through the trees. The course is rolling, and the university course maps even include an elevation profile.

This is not a great course for spectators; the sylvan nature of the course makes it difficult to see much of the race. It is, however, the place where every midwestern high schooler with big-time dreams has come to run since 1979.

A course preview video, again from Flotrack:

A Forgotten Gem: IU Cross Country Course

The course at Indiana University has hosted the NCAA Championships four times, the Great Lakes regional nine times, and the Indiana High School state championships seven times. These days, it hosts a couple of small collegiate meets and not much else. Mostly, it suffers from being in the shadows of the Lavern Gibson course at Indiana State and Louisville’s Sawyer Park, which between them have hosted eleven of the last twelve NCAA Championships.

That’s too bad, because it’s a good course. It’s challenging and hilly (as you’d expect in southern Indiana), but wide open so that spectators can see the whole thing. The course mostly borders trees, but few block the view.

The Killer: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

I’ll bet you didn’t even know there was a national park in Ohio, but there is–a skinny one along the Cuyahoga River gorge, between Akron and Cleveland. Nestled right in the middle of the park is the tiny town of Peninsula. Surrounded by maybe a hundred miles of trails in the national park, it’s only natural that its Woodridge High School is a statewide power in cross country–the boys’ team just won yet another Division II championship yesterday.

Its home invitational is on what say is simply the most difficult cross country course in the nation. The course, in the Pine Hollow section of the park, goes up and down the deep river gorge multiple times. Certainly it’s the most difficult course in Ohio, at least if the times run on it are any indication.

The girls’ course record is held by 2012 Olympian Bridget Franek, who ran 19:07.0 in 2005; five weeks later, she won the state meet in 17:34. She is the only high school girl to ever break 20 minutes on this course.

The boys’ course record is similarly slow, a 16:23.0 by Michael Bradjic in 2010, who ran 15:01 later that year at the state meet and then went on to be a Foot Locker finalist. Only five boys have ever run under 17:00 on this course.

And that’s in good weather. If it’s wet, like it was in 2011, then the course looks like Woodstock ’69 and the times are ridiculously slow–state meet qualifiers running over 19:00.

Coming soon: the last of the “best of the rest”, the northeast.

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2 Responses to Great Cross Country Courses: The Midwest

  1. Pingback: Racing News: Nov. 6 Morning Report | Newswire

  2. Tyler Henson says:

    are you thinking of doing a High School version? I know there is a lot of high school courses, but I think we have one of the toughest up here in Bettendorf, Iowa and I wanted to see if you were thinking of doing that.