I still vividly remember my last race in college. I was a mid-pack runner, but several of my teammates were cheering me on as I neared the finish line, because I was the fifth runner on the team that day, and my place would count toward our team total. Each point counts! Welcome to Cross Country.
Saturday a group of teenaged girls, teammates, crowded into an area of grass spray painted with white lines at a starting line with a number of other teams. They wait for the gun to sound. Then they're off in a mad dash. This is how Cross Country meets start. It is much different from the start of a road race where you seed yourself according to your expected pace on some piece of asphalt.
Road racing is an individual sport. Cross Country is a team sport. For many distance runners, High School Cross Country is where they began in the sport. It's definitely where I learned about distance running. Back then, Cross Country was just a way to keep in shape for basketball, and middle distances in track.
I would have never dreamed that, decades later, distance running is virtually my only athletic outlet. But I'm also a fan. So it was with a great deal of excitement that I was able to see my niece run in a cross country race Saturday!
Alyssa started running in the Girls on the run program in grade school. And she has come a long way since then. She started high school in the fall, and she joined the Cross Country team.
I would see her run no matter where she went to school, but there's added incentive to see her in this case. She runs for my alma mater, Streamwood High School!
Saturday was the conference meet at Elgin's Lord's park. I brought my kids, so they could be exposed to all the fun that is a big cross country meet. It's been many years since I've been to a meet, but once I got there, lots of pleasant memories came back to me. We set up near the start, saw them take off, then made our way out along the course. We didn't have to wait long before Alyssa ran by.
She was running strong, soaking up the experience with a smile on her face. This was a fun course for fans, because we were able to run accross the park and see her at several different points along the course.
I doubt there were many fans along the course who didn't have a personal connection to at least one of the runners. It's not like a high school football game. There were probably as many teammates in the crowd as fans. But the cheers were heartfelt and meaningful.
And the pride I saw on my niece's face when it was over, and she was being congratulated by teammates and her family, was tremendous. Running is a sport virtually anyone can do. And your hard work is generally rewarded with a sense of accomplishment. And in Cross Country, that accomplishment is for something greater than one's self. It's for the team.
Congratulations Alyssa and go Streamwood Sabres!
See you on the roads, or trails!