Cross Country Is…

IMG_2124I wrote my Baseball Is… verse in 1994 as the MLB players went on strike and I feared my son would grow up wondering what this wonderful sport was all about.

My Cross Country Is… verse comes from my experiences with the sport since the 1970s and continues today as I photograph many of the high school meets in the Kansas City area and beyond. I hope you enjoy it.

Cross Country Is…

IMG_9990Cross Country is not simply about the race. Cross Country is all about what you do to prepare for the race.

Cross Country is sitting in the school gym during the football team’s Friday afternoon pep rally consumed in thought about your race the next morning.

Cross Country is your alarm clock rudely reminding you on a humid July morning that your competition is not sleeping in.

Cross Country is a team sport that requires incredible individual efforts.

6F0A0208Cross Country is that coach who somehow evolved from your worst nightmare into a member of your wedding party.

Cross Country is scored backward but everything else about the sport revolves around moving forward as quickly as possible.

IMG_2082Cross Country is a tightly-knit family of runners who are bound by sweat, tears and cheers.

Cross Country is the never-ending pursuit of a PR or a PB and a delicious PB&J.

Cross Country is not the most popular sport in school. It is simply the best sport in school.

Cross Country is Steve Prefontaine’s words on the back of a kid’s t-shirt 100 years from now because Pre was that special.

Cross Country is that bugger of a hill on your route that you would love to skip but don’t because you know how much you will need it come November.

Cross Country is kids who are thought to be some of the smartest students in class — until you sit next to them on a three-hour bus ride.

IMG_2491Cross Country is track without all the hoopla. All you need is shoes, shorts and heart.

Cross Country is what allows you to eventually lose your public inhibitions at an age when many kids are frozen by theirs.

6F0A0383Cross Country is a pristine dew-covered field at dawn awaiting the onslaught of wet spikes unleashed by the echo of the starter’s gun, as the hoard of runners sprint from the start, into a wedge, and then form a serpentine parade.

Cross Country is the entire varsity team going bonkers as the slowest kid on the JV team stumbles through the finish line to record a new PR.

Cross Country is a beautiful sport where you get to experience nature close up, smell the unfiltered outdoors and feel your body adapt — oh, does it ever feel!

Cross Country is lying awake in bed the night before a big race because your mind refuses to obey your legs’ pleas for sleep.

6F0A0067Cross Country is a fresh start with each dawn, knowing that daybreak brings the chance for you to be better, faster and less weird.

Cross Country is working out twice a day because we know the pain while we train is far less than the pain of what we might fail to gain.

Cross Country is not a religion but many have come to know a greater power through the agony of the long distance training run.

IMG_1009Cross Country is a herd of teammates attaining perfect stride cadence as they sprint toward coach’s pick-up truck as another practice comes to a satisfying close.

Cross Country is a starting line of chaotic colorful singlets stretching from the giant oak tree to the scattered shards of the sunrise.

IMG_1719-001Cross Country is a group pasta dinner at one of your teammate’s homes the night before you hope to keep your legs from turning into spaghetti.

Cross Country is learning that hills can be your friend, albeit the kind of friend you would like to see move to North Dakota.

IMG_1517Cross Country is a tiny starting box that appears not nearly large enough to hold seven runners but proves to be more than enough space once chins point up and the gun is raised.

Cross Country is that crushing and disappointing race that comes out of nowhere, just when you thought everything was finally falling into place.

IMG_1233Cross Country is a bond between runners from opposing teams that is frayed during the heat of the race but melts into lasting friendships on the medal stand.

IMG_1821Cross Country is your parents, grandparents and family seated in folding chairs in the middle of a pasture just to watch you run by once or twice in your underwear.

IMG_2150Cross Country is hard work, the kind of hard work that builds strong muscles, stronger minds – and hilarious characters.

Cross Country often favors the skinny kids but beware to never take that not-so-skinny kid in front of you lightly.

Cross Country is a frigid winter training run through your familiar hometown streets escorted by the silence of sub-freezing temps and the chorus of Sauconys on ice.

IMG_1506Cross Country is the incredible satisfaction one gets from doing the work necessary to improve.

Cross Country is that summer trip to a faraway place to train and bond with your team and coaches where the only pressure is your squad’s limited cooking skills.

IMG_0978Cross Country is that painful pang of regret of that missed or shortened workout gnawing at your confidence as you nervously wait in the starting box with your teammates.

IMG_2818Cross Country is running side-by-side with an opponent and hoping they are just as exhausted as you, but never allowing them to know you have no idea if you can hold this pace.

IMG_2233-001Cross Country is that old photo of you in short shorts and long hair that looks odd and humorous to all your adult friends except your old teammates.

Cross Country is odd in that there is no scoreboard updating the race as it unfolds. There is just hope and panic and lots of whispering as the results are slowly tallied.

Cross Country is trying to squash your exploding pride over your just-completed PR race while your best friend pouts about their latest injury.

6F0A3543-001Cross Country is growing up one stride at a time.

Cross Country is about losing – a lot, and coming back the next race determined to lose by less.

IMG_0171Cross Country is coming in as a freshman intimidated by the strange terms, tights and times and leaving as a senior in love with it all.

Cross Country is not for all, rather it is for all who are unafraid to try.

Greg Hall [email protected] 913-579-4455

About Greg Hall

Software guy who has been writing my Off The Couch column in KC newspapers, publications and websites since 1994. Has been bounced from some of the finest media establishments this side of State Line Road. Dad first and everything else second...and there are a lot of everything elses.
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64 Responses to Cross Country Is…

  1. Jim says:

    Good Lord. Hall is alive. haha Nice, GH. Had two boys that both ran CC for high school. Many, many of your musings hit the nail on the head. Hope things are well in your world.

    • Greg Hall says:

      Jim, I still have some miles in these old wheels — and my keyboard. Glad you enjoyed my XC verse. It’s a great sport for kids and I am happy your boys had the chance to experience its hills and valleys.

  2. skip says:

    Not a marathoner just run for pleasure always run early morning 5a.m. when gates open at S M Park . Like solitude of running by myself in fresh morning air with mist on lake , never forget one morning running having a deer run beside me for about 100yds was the coolest thing have ever experienced an will never forget

  3. LibertyCat says:

    This is great stuff! My son is starting 8th grade cross country this fall, and I am excited for him to experience the things you mentioned above just as I did in the late ’80s/early ’90s.

    Although I haven’t commented much in the past, your Off The Couch column was a must read. Thank you for continuing to provide some content to your loyal readers!

    • Greg Hall says:

      I am a bit envious of you and the ups and downs you are going to experience with your son’s XC high school career. These are going to be some really fun years for you and your family. One of my favorite aspects of the sport is how difficult it is for every level of runner as they chase their PR — and how that difficulty leads to parents eventually rooting for all of the kids no matter their jersey.

  4. MightyMo says:

    Mine is a junior runner this year at a large suburban school. Each of his first two years, he has been in the 19 min range which has been middle to top JV. He is killing himself this year to make a varsity push, and I am not at all sure he has enough ability to do it. But my admiration at his effort is endless.

    • Greg Hall says:

      Mo, I tell every HS XC runner to be sure to add their XC seasons on their job resumes. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone who works that hard?

  5. James says:

    Fabulous! You nailed it. I have already shared it multiple times. James M., SMNW-XC ’84.

  6. Phaedrus says:

    Nice job Greg. I was a c-teamer for a couple years (smnw) and thoroughly enjoyed it. One of the best things about cc is that it can lead to a lifetime love of running.

    If you’re still running, you should try some trail races/marathons. They’re the cc version of the road races (which are like track to me).

  7. GundiDad says:

    Thanks. Well done!!

  8. Amy says:

    Nailed it.

  9. Kathie says:

    Love this!! My daughter has run XC for the past 3 years and I just posted a pix of her on FB with a friend she met at a race a few months back and I commented on how in XC you make your best friends even on the opposing teams.

  10. Tony says:


  11. Monica Jewell says:

    My girls run. We come from a small school so 6th graders are allowed to run on the middle school team. My eldest daughter is now a freshman running on the varsity team, the other is in 7th grade running on that middle school team. Your article sums up, pretty darn good, the life of a XC runner. My oldest runs against another girl from another school, they always finish 1 right after the other. They always hug on the podium, her mother and I are on FB together. We share pictures. My husband says we all can’t be friends. I try to tell him that this is not how this sport works. You spoke of the strong bonds with the kids on the team, those bonds are just as strong with the parents. I love my CC family. We cheer on all the kids, form first to last. To be honest with you, I learned that from the runners themselves. They are not selfish, they are true competitors that see to cheer on the last runner. You are right they are not the popular sport. People at our school tell me they don’t have to play as a team, there is no competition to get a spot on the team. I have to tell them they are wrong. All these kids are running to be the best and to be on Varsity. I can not tell you how important runner number 5 and 6 are for the team. These kids have heart, guts, and an ability to finish a race 50 other kids just finished. They inspire me to be better at everything I do…because they never quit. God Bless all the CC runners!!! Thank you.

  12. Chris J. says:

    Very much enjoyed your article! My daughter ran XC in high school and inspired me to become a runner also. You have so perfectly captured what the sport is all about. Not only do the runners on the team become a family but the parents as well. Very thankful for being able to be a part of the experience by attending XC camp as a team mom and getting to know the girls and other parents on those cross state trips to Saturday morning meets. Wonderful memories and friendships. Thank you for sharing!

  13. Jonathan Zygmunt says:

    Please write a “Track & Field is…” if you ever have a chance. A good piece here, but Track & Field would be even better, IMO.

  14. jim crain says:

    Great motivational clip, Inspired by top runners/friendships. My daughter is a sophomore XCer at a high school in North Central Indiana and works at a Sycamore ice cream a few hours a week. She spotted the top runner in a bordering county (top in the area) pulling in the drive thru.. she battled to be at the window to wait on her. She was so excited after work, “Dad, you aren’t going to believe who I got to serve ice cream to”!!!!… her, it was like seeing an Olympic champion

  15. Cherish says:

    How wonderfully written!! Love it all!

  16. Susan Russ says:

    I have shared this clip on Facebook with former high school athletes that I have coached for over 30 years. So beautifully written. You have so accurately described what each runner goes through in training and in racing as well as the wonderful team support that is generated through training together. I have enjoyed the comments from them about how much they enjoyed reading your article. They all have commented on how running cross country has impacted their lives and helped to mold them into the young women they are today. I started the first women’s cross county team at Memphis State University (now U. of Memphis) in 1971 and continued my coaching career at a private girls’ school in Nashville, TN, after moving here in 1979. I am looking forward to someday reading your “Track and Field Is” as I started that program also at Memphis State in 1969 and continued in the same high school in Nashville.

    • Mike Woods says:

      As a coach of this great sport for 44 years in both hs and college, I love the many insights this piece presents. Awesome job!! Keep on keepin on!!

    • Greg Hall says:

      Coach Russ,
      Love that you shared this with your so many of your runners. Huge thanks to you for all you have done for the sport of cross country and all of the many kids who you helped make this a lifelong activity.

  17. Julie says:

    As a high school cross country coach, this had me laughing, naming kids at descriptions and crying at the same time. If only the kids could see themselves and trust and believe in themselves as I do. They would do that one extra sprint, one extra mile or one extra day of a workout. I am going to print and read to my team and hope one thing stands out to each of them and that helps them go just one more of whatever they are needing. Great verse!!!

    • Greg Hall says:

      Just about every line in my verse comes from something I’ve experienced or seen in my years of involvement with the sport. It’s fun to know those same kids and happenstances repeat themselves all across the country.

  18. Cary Sherf says:

    Enjoyed your comments about XC runners as they all true to form, remembering my high school years running for SMS from 68-70 (fall seasons). Never made the varsity team but ran for a mentor (Coach Verlyn Schmidt) who still inspires me today. Have now been running for over 45 years (too many miles and races over 1000+ and over 150+ marathons) and still complete today at a high level (age group winner) and love the competition and comradery in friendships that running has given me.

    • Greg Hall says:

      I have often thought if everyone in the world ran 20 miles a week what a different (and more peaceful) world we would live in. But we would then have to deal with a world-wide shortage of pasta and sweat-wicking gear!

  19. Greg Hall says:

    I just want to thank all of you who have taken the time to read my Cross Country Is… verse and those of you who have shared your thoughts and stories from your experience with the sport. Whether you have toed the start line as a runner for your school, watched from the weeds as your kids streamed by or just been inspired by another runner’s stories, it is great to know that no matter where we live we all love many of the same things about this goofy but glorious sport.

  20. Natalie Mesh says:

    What a great read.. my son is a junior and has been on varsity in the number 4 spot for the last 3 years.. my daughter just started college with an academic and athletic scholarship. My husband coaches the middle school team, and I train and have run some marathons. You nailed everything on the head! Team dinners, cheering on ALL the kids. I log more miles acrossed the fields then the kids do during the race… they can hear us everywhere. Thank you for writing! Will share and print for the kids!

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