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If you would have approached me ten years ago and told me that I was going to be a cross country runner in high school and fall in love with distance running for the rest of my life, I would have straight up laughed in your face. Growing up, I never considered myself to be the athletic type. But that all changed after my first summer practice in the eighth grade.
Being a runner has given me strength, definition, and freedom. I loved competing more than anything in the world. But I always got the question: "Why?"
Why run 10 miles in scorching heat after being at school all day, become more prone to injuries and stress fractures, sprint until you throw up, or do workouts in the rain? More importantly, why do this for fun?
So, what is the hype all about? In this post, I'll prove to you why I spent the last five years of my life making distance running a priority. Why I would go back in a heartbeat. Why I chose this path even though everyone said I was crazy. Here are the 13 best things about running cross country.
1. Your teammates are your family.
Some of the best friends I'll ever have are a result of running cross country. They see you at your best, and, literally, your worst. They celebrate with you when you PR at a meet, are there for you when you ran absolutely awful, and still want to be your friend, even when you're a sweaty, muddy, scratched up, hot mess. The conversations we had at practices, inside jokes we shared, and memories we made, as cheesy as it sounds, are guaranteed to last me a lifetime.
2. You get to look, and feel, hot.
Abs. Muscles. Tans (... or tan lines). Who wouldn't want some of that? Plus you get to feel amazing about your wonderfully in shape self, which doesn't get much better than that.
3. You get to eat all the pasta you want.
Pasta dinners the night before races were always a tradition in our team. I don't think I will ever be able to eat that much Alfredo again without it being socially unacceptable.
4. Excelling as an Athlete
There's nothing that will ever come close to beating that feeling you get during a meet. Striding out on the first 800 meters, trying to break loose from the pack. Passing people climbing up hills. Flying down the straightaways toward the finish line. A roaring crowd. Hearing your team yelling your name. Then crossing the finish line and knowing, that was you. Knowing that you are the one who could run this race with your eyes closed and still break time. Realizing that you are good at what you do.
5. Making Your Coach Proud
It's the little things. Sometimes, it's running past your coach at the mile marker and seeing him smile at his watch. Other times, it's hugging him the moment you cross that finish line, whether you had the race of your life or not. Coach was always there for me, no matter what. He always believed in me more than I did, which is probably why I was even able to succeed as a runner. That's what you get when you run. People who have your back.
6. Lucky Socks and Pre-Race Rituals
Triple knotted laces, listening to the same song on the bus ride every weekend, using the same ponytail holder because it was the same one you were wearing when you PR'd that one time, saying the Lord's prayer at the starting line, and wearing your lucky socks. Superstitions are real when racing becomes your life. But mostly, they just make competing a whole lot more fun.
7. Being Able to Brave Anything and Everything
Hill workouts in the sleet and snow and you only brought shorts? No problem. Getting spiked when running down a hill and running the rest of the race with a bloody shin? No biggie, you can get a band-aid when you finish. Being a runner means being brave in any situation you face. You're tough, strong, and nothing is ever going to be able to stand in your way.
8. The Feeling You Get Right Before the Gun Goes Off
Complete and total silence. But really, a million things are going through your head. The course in front of you, the past behind you. You breathe. You focus. You remember why you're here. The gun goes off, the race begins, and then, it's like nothing matters anymore. It's only you and the course. This really is a beautiful moment.
9. Meeting New People at Meets
I remember meeting a girl on the starting line at a state meet wearing the same spikes as me. We became friends and hung out the rest of the time after our race. These are your people! It's so amazing to have this kind of special connection with a bunch of people you barely know, but because you all are runners, it's like you all instantly understand each other.
10. Sweats on Sweats on Sweats
Your new wardrobe consists of: you guessed it. Sweatpants are bae. And you get TONS when you run cross country.
11. Finishing a Workout and Knowing You Did Good
Especially if it's a hard workout, one you were really nervous about before. There's nothing quite like it.
12. Having a Stress Reliever
There were several days where I would come to cross country practice stressed over school or family issues. Being able to just take off into the scenic routes of our course, the course that I called home, and run into the cool trails of the woods was more than enough to get whatever was bothering me off my mind. It could just be me and the road ahead of me. And when I needed them, I had my teammates to talk to and relax with during long distance runs. As crazy as it may sound, running long distances relaxes me more than anything.
13. Inspiring People
First it inspires you, and then you become the inspiration. This one speaks for itself.
“When we run, we own the Earth. The land is ours.” - McFarland, USA.