My first love cross country
It’s grueling, it’s exhausting. It’s maniacal at times. And it’s the greatest sport in the world.
After eight seasons, 83 races and more miles then I’d like to count, my cross country career met its end this weekend, when our club team’s season concluded at NIRCA Nationals.
A lingering sickness, combined with the marsh of school work and extra curriculars I can never seem to step out of, kept me sidelined this past weekend. It was my second straight race as a spectator, as I missed our regionals meet due to sickness too, but I somehow very much feel at one with my cross country career meeting its termination. I’ve gotten everything I could’ve asked for from the sport and more.
And, as Denzel Washington professed in the 2002 movie John Q (as I just found out on YouTube), “it’s not goodbye son, see you later.”
I’m gifted in knowing that any time I lace up a pair of trainers, I can rekindle the fire that guided me through the best years of my life. The never-ending quest to find my limits, both physically and mentally, is just that, never-ending, no matter which singlet I have on.
I’ll continue running throughout the winter and spring for one last go on the track, and then I’m sure I’ll keep running after that. Because at this point? That’s just what I do.
My lifestyle choices have revolved around running for the past eight years. My Mom likes to joke that I can’t make plans without first figuring out when I’m going to get a run in, and she’s absolutely right.
To be your best, you must carry some version of this mindset over months-long training cycles, multiple times a year. Training for peak performance is a test of sacrifice and determination.
Cross country, by its essence, is the most objective sport. Every person, on the same course, on the same day, battles to get to the finish line first. Race day is a test of will and courage.
I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
On race day, there is no greater reason to keep battling then for your teammates.
Hang out around runners long enough and you’ll hear the phrase, “the loneliest road is the extra mile.” While I’ve certainly spent my fair share of hours slogging out dreary 10 milers, I’ve been privileged to have many talented people accompany me on the journey. The bonds forged over thankless miles of hills and repeats are inseparable.
I know as I depart from the sport in an official sense, as many of my friends already have, I have a great many lifelong buddies thanks to cross country.
One of the runners who helped defeat my high school team in the state championship our junior year, 49-50 (I’m totally over it), is now my roommate and one of my closest friends.
I watched one of my other friends transform from an over 30-minute 5k runner to an all-state beast as teammates in high school. We teamed up again at Delaware, where we drew closer and quicker together.
I unknowingly narrowly defeated one of my closest friends at a race the year before we met. He’s been my go-to training partner for the last year and a half and someone I can always rely on.
I know when I meet up with any of my former high school teammates, with whom I rebuilt the running culture at a desolate-looking school down on Delaware Avenue, we can talk for hours and it’s as if I we had seen each other everyday before.
As Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown would say, in his patented Boston/Australian accent, they’re “good people.”
As is everyone I’ve come across through the sport.
I started running cross country as a freshman in high school for no great reason other than that my Dad, who had completed several marathons, suggested it and that my lifelong friend, Andrew Collier, was going to do it too.
I fell in love. In a similar way to how every university tour guide mystically became entranced when they first set foot on campus.
I ran the next season, indoor track and field, because 5’6’’ 100 pound kids don’t hold up well in high school basketball and by the spring, there was little question I’d give up baseball and continue running in the outdoor track and field season.
As a squad of determined and motivated individuals, my teammates and I ran off the strength of our team and returned Newark High School to the upper-echelon of Delaware running. A minimal achievement now, that felt like the world then.
I came to Delaware hungry, buoyed by some internal frustration that there wasn’t a Division I team here, despite knowing full well that’d be the case when I enrolled. I doubled my mileage and slashed my 5k time by a minute.
But as I got older, it really became about what running can do for the mind, body and spirit. I ran the miles, not solely because they’d make me faster on race day, but because of the rewarding feeling it’d bring me after and the release it’d provide from my everyday life, as I piled on more and more responsibilities to maybe, one day, get a job or something like that.
As my cross country career concludes, I can only be thankful that I showed up to preseason eight years ago and ran four miles on the James F. Hall trail. And that I ran the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.
And I’ll keep running to get that insatiable feeling time and time again. A feeling of freedom, mindlessness and strength.
And, of course, because El Diablo bowls aren’t calorie-free.