When asked about their love for running, cross country athletes commonly respond, “I love to run in the sun because it’s fun.” The question arises “do they only love to run because it’s fun, or is there something more?” An inquiry into this matter does reveal a deeper reflection on the part of the runners. Cross country’s ability to nurture strength draws runners back year after year. Through competition, community, and self-discipline, cross country runners reach new levels which were previously unthinkable. For many of these athletes, the combination of pursuing excellence in competition, community, and self-mastery enabled the Great Hearts Northern Oaks cross country teams to earn their two state championships and one third place finish along with four regional championships and one third place finish this 2019 season.
One way in which the development of strength is nurtured is found within competition. Any Great Hearts student knows that the word competition derives from the Latin roots “com-petere” meaning to seek together. What do we seek? We seek excellence. The whole cross country season is defined by practices and meets; the latter of which is a four hour period of races. These races are the clearest exhibition of competition that cross country has to offer. Throughout the season they not only act as benchmarks for personal growth, but also as a way to show the greater community of cross country runners what you are capable of. A great example of the drive from competition on the Great Hearts team is Benjamin Alcott’s performance at the Matador Invite. Together, he and Isai worked up from the middle of the pack to second and third place. With a sizable gap between Benjamin and the first place runner, you could see his competitive drive light up, pushing him to run harder and faster. This soon lead to the closing of the gap. Neck and neck, Benjamin and the other runner “sprinted the last six hundred meters” with Isai right in their tail. Both Isai and Benjamin dug within themselves on behalf of competition, finding a new capability as well as a new personal record. On account of this outward competition between the Griffins and the internal competition between the two of them they drove themselves to do the previously impossible. Both decided this competitive race was their “favorite race” and that “it was the turning point of the season”. Through competition, the middle school boys cross country team deepened their love for running and discovered new possibilities within themselves.
Another way in which the development of strength is nurtured is through the community brought together on the cross country team. Throughout the season, close friendships form as runners practice together, compete together, and strive for excellence together as a team. Getting into shape for competition is grueling, especially in the Texas heat. A special bond is formed as athletes work together and encourage one another to push their limits. Through the time that the Griffins spend training together, they have become a close-knit family, rejoicing in the victories of their teammates and supporting them through their setbacks. Levi West explained this aspect of cross country well, “It reflects the essential nature of man to come together as a community and depend on each other. If you fall, they’ll pick you back up, but still make you keep running. It’s a big family.” That family is a welcoming family as well. During the season, new friendships are formed as the team draws in new athletes from the incoming grades. This spirit of camaraderie is not just shown to new athletes, but also to injured ones. Coming from an insider of the “Gimp Squad,” injured athletes receive so much encouraging support from their teammates. It’s because of this support that athletes like Bishop Uhlrich and Katie Salahshour continued to attend practice this season, despite being injured. When asked about community, Tatum Uhlrich explained, “That’s the best part! Your teammates also like running, so everyone loves doing it. It brings everyone together into a big family.” Savannah Pawl added, “You see people at their best moments and their worst moments, and it really brings you together.” This vulnerability shared in the team forms relationships that strengthen athletes in their quest for excellence in both body and soul. As the runner’s strength is nurtured through community, it is also developed on an individual level as the runner acquires self-discipline.
A final way in which running nurtures the development of strength is the growth of self-command. This mental control is crucial to all cross country athletes. Coach Hunt always tells his runners about the importance of getting past the mental wall, saying, “Your bodies are capable of so much more than you think they are.” Once runners are able to ignore their thoughts saying they can’t keep running or aren’t strong enough, they can push past what they previously considered physical constraints. One of the most mentally determined runners, India Warren, describes her pre-race preparation as, “an hour of mental exercises” in which she “thinks about the race and listens to music.” This dedicated preparation allows India to push aside any thoughts of pain or weakness and instead to focus on the fact that she “trained for it, and has confidence in the training to run longer distances.” India knows she is capable of running two or three miles in a race and blocks out any desire stop. At the beginning of a race, the excitement for competition aided by the cheers of one’s team hinders any negative thoughts, such as “I can’t do it” or “I feel sick.” However, in the midst of the race, those thoughts begin to consume the runner’s mental state and require them to implement their training and their will to finish the race. Crossing the finish line, all the thoughts that are not truthful are alleviated. The relief and joy found in the completion of this strenuous task fuel the runners’ mental strength and keep them returning each consecutive race, knowing they “can do it.”
Next time a runner says “I love to run in the sun because it is fun,” remember that their love runs (pun intended) deeper than just that. Running helps athletes realize the full capacity of both their mind and their body. When cross country runners are tested by competition, they are pushed to a higher standard of strength. The positive and like-minded community of their team reminds them also of their strength. By conquering negative thoughts, cross country runners realize even more of their strength. By reminding athletes of their capability, running brings so much joy and validation. Because of these affirmations of strength fueling their love for running, Great Heart Northern Oaks athletes performed so well at the culmination of this season at the regional and state meets. Next season, consider the joy cross country could bring to your year. Go Griffins!
– Written by GSN contributors and XC runners Chloe Ewing and Tara Guetzloe