I took sections of this article to just pass along some things that I think cross country is about. As we enter the 2019 season, I thought this seemed to be a good read for everyone.
“A team is only as good as its slowest runner.”
You’ve heard “there’s no ‘I’ in team”—everyone has a part to play. In cross country, there are seven runners and only the first five score in a race; your individual point score is simply where you place in the race and the team with the lowest collective score wins. So what about the other two runners? Any one of the seven can finish in the top five. These last two runners can help keep pace and offer support to other teammates. and they can act as displacers by finishing ahead of another team’s top five runners (in a close race that comes down to a matter of points, finishing one second ahead of a runner from the other team could make all the difference). You don’t have to be the fastest—or the best—to make a difference, but you have to show up and run as hard and as fast as you can to be an integral part of the team.
“Be a champion in practice—that’s where champions are made.”
Also: “Champions are made, not born.” No doubt about it, physical ability makes a difference. But it’s not everything, and talent will only get you so far. I was never the fastest on my team and no one would have dared suggest I run the 100-meter dash. But a 5K cross country race requires more than just speed; you need endurance strength that comes from running every day, remaining committed to your training goals, and listening to your coach. It means running in the sand with your sneakers on and sprinting drills around the track, even when your muscles are burning, you feel like you can’t catch your breath, and it’s taking everything you have not to cry over that blister on the back of your heel. Those who work hard and are committed to their goals are the ones who succeed. Practice makes perfect? No, but it will make you strong.
“You don’t know how strong you really are.
During cross country season, we used the same course as the boys’ team and they would be stationed throughout the course to cheer us on, along with Coach (yelling louder than anyone). I am certain I surged ahead at their encouragement—before our home course’s legendary “Cardiac Hill,” approaching the last long stretch before the finish line, or simply mid-way through the course when my legs were feeling heavy and I wanted the race to just be over already. But I was always surprised and amazed when I found the strength to pick up my pace or the energy to kick at the end. Endurance training gives you strength. (And encouragement from the sidelines helps you find it.)
“To have a friend is to be a friend.”
Also: “Don’t kick a man when he’s down.” We all struggled at various times—in practices, in races, and in our lives. Coach insisted that we respect and support one another and we did. I loved being on those teams and it wasn’t because I loved running or competing (though I did). It was the experience. We were truly bonded: we practiced and competed together, cheered each other on, rode the bus together to and from meets, carb-ed up on bagels or pancakes before big races, crammed into crappy hotel rooms for overnight competitions, socialized on weekends, and went to running camp every August. Blisters, sweat, and tears? Check. We were a team. Some of us stayed in touch after high school, others drifted away, but we all still share the bond. c
“ ‘Tis better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all.”
Also: “Never feel shame for trying and failing, for he who has never failed is he who has never tried.” You have to try. Really, that is all.
“What are you afraid of?”
Fear has no place on the field. “What are you afraid of?” I heard this one a lot. I believe Coach knew just when to ask me that—when my confidence was low, when I was tired, when I wondered if I might be better off spending my time doing something else.
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
I still hear those words all these years later, how they’re often triggered when I am facing a challenge, or when I have lost focus or confidence or faith. Those words guide me.