Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cross country runners are among the toughest people on the planet

And so are wrestlers, but that's another blog post for another day.

My youngest son, Jack, is running cross country for the first time. Well, officially what he's doing is known as the Wickliffe Junior Olympics program, but for all intents and purposes it's Wickliffe Middle School's offseason cross country training program.

(NOTE: Apparently there are people who think the phrase "all intents and purposes" should actually be rendered as "for all intensive purposes." What? Why? Why would you think that? What is an "intensive purpose?" What makes it so much more intensive than other purposes? I don't understand human beings sometimes.)

Anyway, the boy is running cross country. He's still learning the ropes, but the program is clearly awesome and well tailored to someone of Jack's age (11) and temperament (mildly eccentric and easily distracted).

His coach is Coach Todd, a great guy with whom I ran track back in the late 1800s at Wickliffe High School. Or maybe it was the late 1980s. It just seems like it was a long time ago.

Todd was a distance runner way back when and is still in great shape. He pushes the kids, but he doesn't drive them until they throw up or anything. He understands they're at an age where an experience like that will turn them off of the sport forever.

Jack and I go out running together a couple of times a week, and I can see his endurance and focus improving every time we lace up our shoes. It's kind of fun to watch.

I was a Wickliffe track athlete for six years, but I was a sprinter. As I've mentioned before, I thought distance runners were nuts (they are). I didn't join their ranks until I was older and perhaps a little wiser.

Cross country was and is a fall sport. During the fall I played football. Every once in a while I would see the cross country team practicing, which is to say they were out running. You "practice" cross country by running. Lots and lots of running.

Occasionally one of my football teammates would say something about the cross country runners and how they wouldn't last five minutes on a football field. I would laugh and suggest that he wouldn't last five SECONDS in a cross country meet.

I ran with these people every day during track season in the spring, and I knew what they were capable of. I also knew how hard they worked to get better. By the time kids get to high school, you can push them a lot more, but most of the cross country runners I knew pushed themselves. They didn't need a coach with a whistle and a clipboard to motivate them.

Which is to say that cross country runners are, for my money, among the most disciplined, hardest-working athletes in all of sports. And having raised a family of kids who were mostly soccer players, I'm excited at the prospect of having a cross country warrior in our ranks (I think old-time sports writers used to call them "harriers," by the way.)

If you're looking for someone with mental toughness and a true drive to succeed, find a distance runner. You won't be disappointed.

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