Archive for Thursday, July 22, 2004

Sports writer runs a mile in cross country’s shoes

July 22, 2004

I am slow. I am very, very slow.
I'm so slow that I can't even make it on time to a race -- the annual CPA 4-mile run Saturday. Just ask my editor: Punctuality isn't my strongest trait.
And I guess running isn't either.
Embarrassed, I approached the starting line about 15 minutes after the runners had kicked off, checked in with Eudora cross country coach Paul Boone, and began my "race."
Now, don't get me wrong, I've run before. But I hadn't so much as jogged in at least a month. Chronic shin splints had shut me down.
But I thought, "Hey, I'm a young, healthy male. I play basketball all the time. I just went hiking. I can do it."
Wrong again.
The first mile was alright. The second mile -- well, that was a little harder. And I certainly didn't have the benefit of the pack to push me. About mile three the shins blew up, and I had a blow out. A few days later I crossed the finish line, throbbing but happy.
You see, even in this very disappointing hour I had a sense of accomplishment. My uncooperative body left the completion of the race in the hands of my pride and will. And that will carried me through to the finish line.
It was far from a crowning athletic achievement, but anytime you rely on your will for the completion of a task you learn something about yourself. It's classic mind over matter.
The moment spoke to the spirit of running. There is likely no sport more pure. There's something about being out on the course battling only yourself (because again, there was no one else around).
I am a veteran of nearly every team sport, and competition fuels my passions. But there is something uniquely special about competition with yourself. It is akin to the motivation I have to climb mountains. It's just you against nature. And there is no force more intimidating than nature.
There is also something therapeutic about running, although my aching shins and whining quads may beg to differ. And yet there is something methodic about the gentle rhythms of a runner's stride. The cadence of a jogger's step beats in harmony with a runner's heart.
The other thing I took away from that Saturday morning was a grander respect for the Cardinal cross country team. In some ways that goes without saying, I have a broader respect for running and, therefore, have a broader respect for runners. But it's a little more than that.
I have followed Eudora's cross country athletes closely from the cross country season to the track and field campaign, and many personalities and performances stand out. And yet none may stand out anymore than Saturday.
Maybe it's just because I hadn't seen the kids in a while. Maybe it's because I was humbled by my own efforts. I don't know exactly what it was -- but it was something.
I looked upon current stars in attendance like Megan Ballock and Brittney Graff, each walking away with divisional accolades, and I viewed graduated stars like Tighe Van Anne. Each had excelled on the highest stages, but their presence on this comparatively low stage was also excellent.
This event was after all, partly constructed as a fund-raiser for the cross country team. It was an opportunity for an underappreciated group of athletes to receive some money to further the program.
I don't know what kind of money the event raised. I assume it did well based upon the admirable attendance. But one thing is for certain: They raised some eyebrows.
When I read over the race results posted on www.mararunning.org, I compared my own time. You may notice my time was not listed. I was absent for registration and therefore absent from the official standings. But I timed myself on my sport wristwatch. And as I compared my splits, I was amazed.
I knew I wasn't threatening any event records, but I had no idea I was that far off the leading curve. However, I was far more impressed by my fellow runners than I was disappointed in myself. This group could run, and I am proud of them -- proud of them, proud of the event, and proud of the Cardinal team.
And you know what? I was proud of myself. For getting up early on a Saturday morning. For running. And for finishing. At the sacrifice of the sore days that followed, I was able to lend my support to these great Cardinal athletes.
I encourage each of you to echo my support of this sport and the rare breed of athletes that thrive within it.

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