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. Corrie Enyart says:

    I am a middle school and high school XC coach and your writing almost brought tears to my eyes. You portray so beautifully, and motivationally our sport in a nutshell. I will absolutely be printing this off and posting it in our PGXC (Prairie Girls XC) “Club House”.

  2. Becky says:

    I am a HS coach, and this is fabulous. I plan to share it with all my runners and my former teammates as well. Unless you have run this sport, you won’t truly understand it and you nailed it. Thank you!

  3. Russ says:

    My son came to me prior to 5th grade and asked if he could go to the cross country meeting and join. “Sure, I thought, but wait until you figure out what you got yourself into.” Now, seven years, two sons running, and some 80,000 photos and counting I hope it never ends. I love the spectacle that is cross country; the colors, the effort, the agony. Cross Country IS the best sport! Great article!

    • Greg Hall says:

      Russ,
      80K pics? I can tell you went far beyond just photographing your kids. Few sports can match the spectacle of the start line of a big cross country race when you see the myriad of colorful singlets stretch beyond your line of focus. And how proud is each runner who has attained the right to wear one of those rare top-seven varsity singlets? To be able to stand in the start box is a victory all in of itself.

  4. MamaXC says:

    My verse as a parent: Cheering for all the kids on the team mid course and dashing to the finish hoping to catch the first kid again.

    • LibertyCat says:

      I know what you mean. I usually sweat just as much as the participants by running to various locations throughout the course to cheer on my son and his teammates. It’s one of the few sports in which the fans can get in a good workout themselves!

  5. Anita & Jim Lister says:

    Yes, you really did nail this one. Brought tears. My husband and I coached both boys and girls CC …..thirty some runners each year from our home . They were part of our family. Had many PRs, all leagues and all staters…state champions! It all came from willingness to work hard and enjoy what they were working hard at doing. Thanks to FB , we can keep track of them in our retirement ….there are doctors , teachers, dentists, coaches, masters and PhDs, worldly adults! you name it! Just plain good people! So proud of them all, hoping we may have played a small pArt in their successes learned in CC. The saying was RUN HARD but really meant WORK HARD and lifewill be good to you! And most of them are still running…..all you need us a good pair of shoes and the heart to do it!

    • Greg Hall says:

      You cannot know a hard-working cross country kid and not be impressed with their dedication, drive and sense of humor. One of my favorite things about being involved with the sport on the HS level is the kids ability to handle the work and still have fun doing it. It reminds me each day at the office to smile — since my hairline now forbids me to scalp my noggin into the company mascot.

  6. Nancy Smith Northville NXC says:

    Got this from a friend and truly loved it. Thanks for sharing! I also passed it on to all of my team and parents.

  7. Kelli Armknecht says:

    This is fantastic! I ran XC in High School and College and now coach HS XC! Cross Country is a life sport!!!

  8. Gene Jones says:

    Enjoyed “Cross Country is ………” by Greg Hall! Without a doubt more true statements about High School Cross Country I have ever read in one article! As others have stated — you hit the nail on the head!

  9. Amber Loberg says:

    Awesome. Just to add:
    Cross Country is giving your parents the gift of watching their child compete for 15 – 20min instead of watching them stand on the sidelines for 2 hours,
    Cross Country is proudly wearing the shirt that says “my sport is your sport’s punishment”

  10. Vijay says:

    I’m a 7th grade cross country runner in an overall team of 130 kids. I love this article and am going to share it with my coach’s. Thank You.

    • Greg Hall says:

      Vijay, So glad you enjoyed my verse. It is pretty cool to hear from someone as new to the sport as you and know that my words resonate with you. Best of luck to you, your coaches and those 130 kids this XC season!

  11. Anthony S says:

    I ran XC every year in high school and this was the best explanation of the sport that I have ever read. Its hard to explain all that there is to XC.

    My favorite line from this :

    “Cross 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.”

    As a freshman I remember stretching and looking at the seniors in fear that I wouldn’t have what it takes to stay all four years. I was in fear I would end up quitting. Four years later , I was a Senior, Two time All Team Captain, in love with the Sport and in Love with my team and the coaches are the most genuine people i have met! THS XC Ohana

    • Greg Hall says:

      Anthony, I went to our oldest son’s first time trial his freshman year and I was stunned at how fit, fast and friendly all of the seniors were on his high school team. I couldn’t imagine my less-than-engaged son ever making the varsity someday. But the growth of a runner from their freshman year to their senior year can be something magical to witness. Glad your experience was just that.

  12. Wesley Martin says:

    As a 51 year old who ran XC, my eyes welled up with all of the fond memories you described so eloquently. Now my 15 year old son is on the same journey. We share the same love for the sport that continues to bring us closer together. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. XC is truly a sport for all ages. A S/O to the coaches and athletes at North HS in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

  13. Sam Jensen says:

    I’m a junior in high school and I just joined cross country this year. For the longest time, I thought people were crazy for running cross country. I was very wrong… they are INSANE! That’s me though too now. “Running is a mental sport, and we are insane!” That’s one of my favorite quotes. I cannot believe how much I’ve grown with running, and the season isn’t even over yet. Even then, the season never stops. I love Cross Country and I love how you explained it; it was spot on. Woo to you for putting Cross Country into such beautiful words!

  14. Dan Dittmer says:

    Sir, your words stop me in my tracks. Many years ago I received a typed letter from the high school cross country coach asking me to join the team. I had no idea what cross country was, I was a 50 yd/75 yd sprinter in junior high. Three months later I was one of three or four sophomores to letter and an above average 440 runner in the spring. The quarter became my life, but cross country was the root of that life. I am now in my 44th year of coaching TF/XC (JH/HS/JC) and I would not trade my XC coaching days for anything. Thank you for putting our sport into words.

  15. lorraine Swiger says:

    Your article is truly wonderful. But you know being a 75 yr old grandmother (Oma) who has travelled to watch my two grandsons embrace XC I can identify with the athlete a little. When they have lost I love them so much for their efforts, when they win and do well I go home hoarse from yelling GO GO GO. When I watch a race they are in being telecast and my boys aren’t in front and all the camera shows are the first few racers I scream at the TV ( show everyone else the are working just as hard for their time). So we as spectators also get the thrill of the sport, just in a little different way.
    Thank you to all you coaches, organizations, schools and everyone who helps make this happen

  16. neta prefontaine says:

    Greg-your impressive and compassionate writing thrilled me. My brother Steve Prefontaine was a great X Country runner-he loved it for it’s freedom and always liked the challenge on any given day. Now I have a granddaughter running X Country and she started slow but now in her high school years has absolutely fallen in love with it. It’s amazing how much kids dig this. As a grandma I love seeing kids in a sport that does not damage their bodies but builds them up and makes them happy, healthy and more fun. l bless each and everyone of you that can run. Love and hugs Neta Prefontaine.

    • Greg Hall says:

      Neta, Really glad you enjoyed Cross Country Is… and that Pre’s young relatives are enjoying the sport he not only loved but made so popular across the world. I was at Rim Rock in Lawrence. KS last weekend and there were XC kids all over the farm with Pre’s inspirational quotes on the backs of their t-shirts. Steve may be gone but his memory will outlive all of us — and our grandkids.

  17. Shellinrxc says:

    I love this. All of it is so true. My cross team is just like this and much more fun. Run is more of a mind game then a phyiscal sport.

  18. skurf says:

    Love love love. Our girls team out here in Corvallis, Montana is on the verge at making a run for a 5th straight state championship of which my daughter has been varsity since freshman year (junior now) and my youngest is in the wings at middle school. All the kids are so inspiring that the ache in my legs as I run from spot to spot on the course (I map them out in my head, often with a cup of coffee, as I chart/walk the course before race) are rarely felt at race time. Thank you for such a well written, insightful, inspirational article.

    • Greg Hall says:

      I bet that is one beautiful place to train and race up there in Big Sky Country. Tell your girls I will be rooting for them to get after it at state and bring home their fifth XC title.

      • skurf123 says:

        Greg those kids did it! It was a slugfest, but the Corvallis Boys and Girls were Montana !A State Champions – the 5th straight for the girls. Send you a picture if you like…there are several as you can imagine.

  19. Patti scarff says:

    My beautiful granddaughter runs and it is not the competion with other teams but always trying to beat her best time. I am so proud of her. She may come in all out of breath but grams always has tears in her eyes. Ps we do like to win as well

  20. Lisa Borges says:

    This was truly beautiful. Each description fills me with emotion. Your post was shared on our HS FB Running page and I shared it on my alma mater’s Running page too. Thanks for sharing! Watching today’s young runners and photographing them,when I do, as a former X-country runner brings a special feeling to me as well. I could not have expressed it as lovely, as heart felt or as detailed as you have. Very awesome!

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