Cross country is a sport that never stops. Whether it be a blazing summer day or a chilly autumn afternoon, we always hit the trail sparing little regard for the sweat that will drench us. As one of my forerunners used to say, there have been times when the team would wish for earthquakes, divine interventions, or even alien invasions to disrupt their practice. Alas, all that has been wishful thinking, and I doubt any of it will ever happen. And yet, I soon found that over the course of my cross country journey it is exactly the obstinate quality of cross country that I find to be so mesmerizing.
I grew up in an environment where the only place to run was a two-hundred meter track in my school. Nobody took our practices seriously. And even the slightest raindrops and the smallest excuses made by runners signaled the immediate “need” to head back inside — admittedly, I was no exception.
So you can imagine the surprise I felt when I had my first run through the Cochran Bird Sanctuary with my fellow training group members. What a day it was! The wind and trees whistled their welcomes. The trail, though littered with tiny pebbles, felt firm and supportive. Animals of all kinds rustled in the underbrush, peeking at us between leaves. It was truly an amazing experience, and, for quite a long time, all my weariness from running was washed away — all that was left was the pleasure of intimately communicating with nature.
Despite my initial luster, the hard days where I wished to just give up became numerous. Soon, all I remembered doing were tedious hill workouts, back and forth, up and down Heartbreak Hill. One day I sprained my ankle, and when it finally healed, my two-mile recovery run was more than miserable due to the harsh and relentless rain. My heart and body quivered with exhaustion as the whole world blended into the darkening sky and I could see nothing but the shadows of my companions. I felt as if the Earth was crushing the air out of my lungs. But one thing kept me going — the sound of uniform footsteps, mellow but full of rhythm, that told me I wasn’t alone. I knew we had each other.
Now that weeks have flown by, I realize that I had never completely recovered from the bad experiences. First I had sprained my ankle, then I injured my knee, and my god-knows-what will certainly be next. My speed also proved to be slower than average, as I was one of the few who still had not moved up into JV. Even though my average became slower, I can say one thing for myself: I have run my best in every practice, and I have begun to enjoy the experience. I have outgrown the episodes of self-questioning that had plagued my earlier sessions.
Last Saturday, when the JV boys gathered around in preparation for a race (after I finally made the team), Sam Baxter-Bray ’20 delivered a speech. “Your goal for today,” he said, “is to have nothing left in your tank the moment you cross the finish line. Do you remember the pain? The pain of those hill workouts, the pain of those practices in the rain? Well, this is the place to use that pain, boys! We’ve been working hard this season, let’s show them what we’ve got!”
Sam’s words resonated with me, and I ran hard. I went across the lawn, behind Cochran Chapel, and into the Sanctuary. My legs began to tremble and ache, but I pushed through. I heard footsteps urging me onwards and saw tree branches swaying in support. Up I went: Log Cabin, Heartbreak Hill, then back to the gates, without the slightest notion of a pause. I now know that cross country was never about the trophies, the records, or moving up into JV. It is and has always been about running nonstop, in whatever situation, with the obstinacy that truly defines cross country.
Peike Wu is a Junior from Guangzhou, China. Contact the author at email@example.com.