It began with a 3.5 hour drive to Pasco, WA. With me in the most complicated car to have ever existed (we never did figure out how the heating system worked) were one coach and four teammates (everyone else was in the eleven-passenger van). A quick jog, an Italian dinner, a night in a hotel, and the brief drive to Sun Willows Golf Course brought me to the WIAA Cross Country State Championships.
The story actually began long before that. I’d waited all season, all year, all of the past two years (since I failed to qualify last year due to illness), to reach this point. Two seasons of intervals, hill workouts, and long runs (my favorite). A spring season of running circles around a track. A summer of running forty, even fifty miles a week. All for one, 21 (and a little bit more) minute race.
But it was worth it. So incredibly worth it. The race was everything I imagined it to be, and more. Sure, I didn’t make the podium (I’m hopeful, next year) or even run quite as fast as my coaches were hoping, but I am convinced that it was a great race. Everything “clicked”, somewhat like the experience I had at Nike Pre-Nationals last season. Most important, I was at peace with the race. (Does that sound odd?) I was nervous–very nervous (just ask my coaches)–before the race. But once I was running, I was running free, eloquently described by a teammate as “just running your best for yourself and for your team, because it doesn’t what other people think about you.”
The team part: that’s key. To finish with five athletes across the finish line, knowing you stood for something greater than yourself, is infinitely important, even in a sport that seems so individual. (For a good explanation of how cross country team scoring works, see this link). Especially for “middle-of-the-pack” runners who probably do not have a chance at winning the race or achieving greatness on their own, the team provides motivation and purpose. I know that my teammates are counting on me to run my best; likewise, I am counting on them to run their best. My first year at state cross country, someone brought up this quotation:
“From the day of our birth, we were meant for this time and place…and no matter what happens today, I will stand behind every decision you will make. We came into this room as a team and we will leave as a team” ~Gene Kranz
I think I’ll let that speak for itself.
More extrinsic proof: the White House News Photographers Association holds an annual photojournalism contest. One of the categories is Sports Feature/Reaction, defined as “A feature or reaction picture that is sports related. Reaction by participants or fans, or reaction by competitors away from the action (even if still on the field of play) should be included in this category.” People say cross country is boring to watch, but an image captured by Richard A. Lipski of the Washington Post of the Virginia State AAA Cross Country Championships won the category for 2009. I find that it captures a small part of the essence of cross country. (NB: You really ought to click on the image below to see it full size–the little details make it that much more meaningful).