“Run XC, it’ll be fun!” a former classmate of mine said to me in our geometry class. Little did I know that cross country would be the toughest and most exhilarating sport I’ve ever been a part of. From learning about the importance of proper running form to finding out that compression shorts are a runner’s best friend (I learned the hard way, ’tis a story for another time), here are the ten lessons running cross country has taught me:
- Your body is capable of more than you give it credit for: As my former varsity coach once said “Running is 80% mental and only 20% physical”, I am here to tell you that his words are very true. From my experience, the mind has the ultimate say in deciding how fast to sprint and in setting the mental atmosphere on race day. If I’m feeling down or am anxious about a certain race, I will write my mantra “Fear no distance” on the inside of my wrist. Glancing at this during the race does help motivate me to hang in there and not give up. If this doesn’t help, the thought of “The faster you get this done, the sooner you can eat” never fails to keep my mind in check.
- Rest days are just as important as long run days: Don’t ever let your coach take your rest days from you. Rest is actually how your body gets stronger. Each time you pound the pavement, the muscle fibers in our quadriceps and calf muscles break. Taking the day off and letting your body rest allows those muscle fibers to recover and repair, resulting in stronger muscles.
- Your body knows when too much is actually too much: This often happens at the worst of times such as the end of the season, right when the most important races are booked. Training may be going great and hitting PR’s right and left may even be the new normal, but if your body physically prevents you from performing at your best, stop, take some time off, and even see your doctor or physical therapist if the pain is too much to bear. Although current sport culture says to “Push through the pain” DON’T. This may even make your injury worse, lengthening your recovery time. As difficult as this may seem, it’s healthier in the long run (no pun intended). I know for myself, I would rather run a championship race at 100% than at 50%. Your body and mind will thank you.
- The most intimate relationship you’ll have is with your foam roller: This is especially true after running on a particularly hilly course. My foam roller has really become my best friend, as it can soothe my calf and glute muscle aches in ways that no one else can. Take care your your foam roller and it will take care of you.
- Changing into running clothes anywhere, whilst maintaining some modesty, is a skill: Since bus schedules and race times are never consistent, you often have to get race ready earlier than expected. There have been times were I had to change on the bus, with all my teammates present. Was I embarrassed? No, because I already had my compression shorts and sports bra on. Plus, I was too focused on changing quickly to care about anything else.
- Mapping out your run based on bathroom availability is necessary: Its basically a necessity since the trots give no warning. Make sure you know where all the bathroom stops are our that last part of your run will be clenching!
- The existent love-hate relationship with Fartleks (80% hate, 20% indifference): This includes mile repeats, 1000s, 800s, or any kind of crazy speed work that your coach makes you do. Although I would rather go on a nine mile long run than do mile repeats, I am aware that speedwork does what its namesake suggests, make you faster. Refer back to #1 for fartlek motivation.
- You will develop an affinity to a certain shoe brand: Logging in 35+ miles a week during XC season will open your eyes to the world of the plethora of running shoe brands. All throughout my high school running career, I have only run in Brooks (both training shoes and racing flats). Call me a running shoe snob, but those PureConnects literally got my through grueling practices.
- Your ability to eat (in season) will be unmatched in your friend group: Also very true! I remember going to eat dinner with my non-XC friends at a local Japanese restaurant during my senior year of high school. While everyone else settled for sushi rolls, I ordered a special sushi roll and a bento box of chicken teriyaki. I devoured both and still had room for dessert. It’s also worth noting that this monstrous appetite will never truly leave even after cross country ends. This can be very dangerous health-wise if you don’t exercise and can make the dreaded ‘Freshman 15’ a sad reality. So just keep on running and you should be fine!
- The running community is unrivaled, so is your bond with your teammates: The running community is so diverse in all aspects. What makes running truly great is that it brings people of different backgrounds together in a positive and fun environment. My teammates have truly seen me at my best and at my worst. Running cross country means that you spend 40+ hours a week with your teammates. Your teammates are the ones that you can talk to about boys, vent your school stress, and swap bowel movement stories about. I have yet to find a person (that isn’t a former teammate) that I can talk about these things comfortably in a judge free zone. Your teammates are also the ones that keep you in check race, school, and life-wise. They shout, scream, and cheer for you in each and every race. They believe in you, even when you don’t believe in yourself.
These are the ten lessons I learned from running cross country. To be completely honest, most of these lessons have transferred to my daily life. I am still learning about this crazy, intense, sweet passion of mine! A friend recently shared a quote with me and it seems like the perfect way to conclude: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. So to my former teammates and coaches, thank you from the bottom of my heart. My passion for running would not be as strong as it is today if it weren’t for your guidance, patience, and constant support!