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. Lane Mitchell says:

    Great article on cross country. I was on my high school team in the early 70s and lost my favorite coach when he moved to another school across the state after my sophomore year. He had a cross country/track reunion this year for those early 70s teams. Of the dozen of us who traveled over 350 miles to see him and meet together, 10 were cross country runners. We were family.

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