Maybe XC Really Isn’t So Bad

 By Jasmyn M. ‘23

I get asked pretty often what sport I’m doing right now, by shadows, my parents’ friends, or my friends. When I say cross country, I brace myself for the classic responses. “What?” “Why are you doing that to yourself?” “You mean like, more than a mile? I would die!” Even Cindy, a longtime Crystal PE teacher, has only three limited reasons she’ll run: if she’s being chased by a bear, if it’s for food, or if she’s running after a ball.

Usually, people only hate running because they are out of shape. Only a few minutes after they start, they have already gotten a stomach cramp, are having trouble breathing, or have sore legs. Some classmates tell me they dislike the sport because it’s “boring.” I have even had multiple people tell me, “Cross country isn’t even a sport!”

You can’t hate something because you haven’t practiced it or are not good at it. For example, when I tried basketball for the first time, I went home saying I did not like it at all. But as time went on, I realized that I simply was not good at it. Now, I have great respect basketball even if I still occasionally complain about it.

People are entitled to their own opinions about which sports are boring. It could be argued that running is boring because all you are doing is, well, running. If you want to take this approach, then I would respond by saying that running is actually a great way to get your mind off things, and is therefore quite engaging. I have found that there are two different types of running – thinking about everything, and thinking about nothing. On some runs, I focus on my form, on the surface beneath my feet, and my breathing patterns. On other runs, I forget everything around me, let my feet fall into a good rhythm, and think about things that are going on in my life. Either of these two types is a great way to de-stress if you have a busy life outside of cross country.

Another thing I often hear is that there is no strategy involved in the sport. But really, strategy in cross country is just not the kind you see in team sports like volleyball, basketball, or soccer. To get ready for meets in cross country, we look at maps of the course, a topographic run-through of the course, and a fly-over following the course’s trails. We also always walk the course before running it. This pre-meet run-through of the course means we can talk about places where we can pass people, where we should speed up a bit, where there is mud and we need to be careful, and how to make the shortest path between two turns, and more. Though perhaps a more subtle kind of strategy, planning is still integral to success in cross country as starting too quickly or having a poorly timed kick can doom your race.

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The phrase, “cross country isn’t a team sport” isn’t true either. If you ran on a team consisting of just yourself, you probably wouldn’t do very well in races. It is important to connect with other people on your team during a race. There is usually someone else on the team either around your pace or a little faster, so if you stick with them throughout the race, it pushes both of you to keep up your pace and not fall back.

When I started cross country, everyone was super nice to me from the moment I joined the team. After a little bit, I began to feel like cross country was a whole new family. I’ve made friends in other grades that I may have never met if it weren’t for the sport. We all have a plethora of inside jokes with each other, and practices are always fun because everyone on the team is your friend. There is no drama among any of us, most likely because there’s nothing to blame on people. In cross country, you can’t really mess someone else up, you can only help your teammates. Even outside of practices, the XC team is still close; we hang out with each other outside of practice and we plan things such as wearing a certain hairstyle for a meet. I think some people on the team right now are even thinking about dyeing their hair blue. This camaraderie suggests that cross country is more of a team sport than some people might initially think.

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Even if you don’t really want to run for the sake of running, it can help with pretty much every other sport that exists. If you don’t play a fall sport and want to get in shape, cross country is a great way to get you conditioned. Running cross country gets you a strong core, strong legs, and strong arms. You will also have a much easier time when you get punished in another sport, and the command, “everybody run four laps!” will be easier for you than everyone else. It will also be a relief, because only four laps around the field will seem like nothing after you’ve run a season of cross country.

People can have their opinions about cross country. Some people will love it and some people will look at it with pure distaste. But if you’ve never tried it, maybe give it a chance. You could find that it’s a lot of fun!

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