If there’s any sport that I’d label as the most loved and feared, it would be none other than cross country. The idea of nothing but running nonstop for miles typically does not attract a wide crowd of enthusiastic volunteers. It takes a steadfast and mature mindset and an intrinsically motivated athlete to conquer a cross country course.
Cross country, for most of my high school career, seemed monotonous. Running. And then more running–that’s all. I thought that to myself and consequently was pushed away from the idea. Running in the past was easier to view as a punishment for another sport rather than a voluntary hobby.
However, that cloud of judgement that can stigmatize so much of what this sport has to offer is something we should moved past. Having been there myself, I can attest that it is beyond just something worth reconsidering. Here are just five reasons why:
You meet the best people
The people you meet during the season and run your first few miles with will be the people you get to know the best. The girls I got to know on cross country this year turned out to be some of my closest friends. Sometimes the only way to get through a race or long run is to just talk, or be around people who keep talking even if you don’t say anything back because you’re too out of breath– they will understand. And from that foundation of understanding, comes friendship. You can relate to so many different things, from tripping during a race to rambling on about random topics to each other. The variety of exhausted conversations during races can range from,“how much food are you going to eat after this practice?” to, “What’s your latest existential crisis?” There really are no limits. You just get each other.
It embodies a positive culture.
In many sports, there are starters, subs, and benchwarmers. Being part of a team– regardless of wherever you stand in the hierarchy of playing time–means that you have a role. Although this is a key aspect of teamwork, playing time does make you a lot better and gives you game knowledge and experience. Your purpose in being there is to help the team. However, in cross country, in each and every meet, you have the same chance as everybody else to do the best that you can, which is only a sliver of what sets this sport apart.
The positivity is what makes this sport its own category of competition. The natural encouraging culture of the sport rubs off on everybody there. Nobody, not even the girl lapping you, discourages you. Obviously, meets are filled with nothing but pressure for the more competitive athletes–who deserve serious respect for their hard work and dedication to the sport as well as passion for running–cheer you on the whole way. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, you are a valuable teammate and people are rooting for you.
You build mental toughness.
Like in any sport, the mental game in cross country can trump physical skill. In practices you work your way up to race distances, and much of the intimidation factor is lowered as a result. Not only does the mental game help you on the course, but it also helps you in life. Captain Mary Cate Simutis says, “I would say I’ve learned most of my high school survival skills from XC (as crazy as that sounds). It provides a huge family of girls to be friends with. It offers a lot of companionship and also a feeling of strength, like you’re all pushing for the purpose of something greater. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience to push me through high school. I’ve learned how to be a persistent, dedicated, strong and active student because LFXC and the coaches instilled that in me.” Whether your motivation comes from wanting to break through your own boundaries as an athlete, or thinking about how much cheese you are going to eat when you get home after practice, we all cross that finish line working for something.
It’s a great supplement for other sports.
If you do have another sport your striving towards greatness in, and are not playing for any club teams in the offseason, cross country is a great way to go if you want to stay active and strong. Some coaches will tell you it makes you slower, but for me personally, it made the difference in my running. Working on running form made me stronger and faster. Simply focusing on form not only makes you better, but it also makes the runs go by faster. Also, there are track workouts designed by the amazing coaches to make you faster, and to push your speed even further. Maggie Myles speaks about the workouts after having experienced them firsthand, “There’s nothing I look forward to more than workouts on the track and especially meets when I run a lot so I can eat my bodyweight in candy after. 10/10 would recommend.”
It’s fun! Really!
My previous judgements from past years about cross country being monotonous could not have been more wrong. There is always something different going on at every practice. I mean you get to do yoga led by Sra. Levinson! Savasana at the end of practice was sometimes the best part of my day, because as Sra. Lev puts it: you get to just “be.” If you have a thought, Sra. Lev tells you to label it as just a thought and to drop it. This form of meditation truly made an impact on me as well as other girls on the team, in and out of sports. I wouldn’t have learned that without cross country. What other sport emphasizes the importance of maintaining a clear head and enjoying the moment this much? The season also consisted of delicious food, like team dinners from Roti and Real Urban Barbecue, biking trips to Suzy’s Swirl, and LF Juice smoothies. And reiterating reason #1, you get to do all of it with the best people.
Many rising seniors, in the midst of selecting their schedules for next year, are looking for a way to find their way out of that dreaded gym class, and into an athletic study hall. As much as cross country seems intimidating, the appeal is just as intriguing if you understand what it is all about. You can join any year. There are no cuts. So go ahead, if it’s just to get that athletic study hall, to challenge yourself, or if you love running , take on the challenge that is cross country.
One last tip if you, like me, are not the most competitive runner and are there to “enjoy the journey”: find friends who make you laugh while enduring the process. But also, remember that if you’re approaching the sport inexperienced, you can have just as much potential as you set your mind to.