The Misconception Sport

Savanna Spadalik, Staff Writer

It’s the beginning of the school year, and most students know what that means; seeing friends again, homecoming, football games, and cross country… wait, what? Cross country? Are you joking… that’s not a legitimate fall sport! This is the typical reaction from many students, except for the runners themselves.

As the temperature cools and the days grow shorter, the XC grind starts. It consists of panting up and down hills along the dirt bike path to Bethpage, a 5-mile practice run to Brady Park and back, blisters, shin splints, and ice baths. Not to mention experiencing asthma attacks so you can get a personal record (PR) time, the firing of a pistol at the start of a race, and the sound of collapsing bodies and painful cries at the finish. It’s officially XC season. Many don’t know what cross country runners exactly do, and therefore, many judge the sport, thinking that all runners do is “just run.” Well, all runners wish all they did was just run, but it’s not a Cinderella Story, it’s more of a Mission Impossible.

To give you an idea of what we actually do, a week’s practice entails some very intense workouts and hardcore running. It includes a tempo run, a core workout, a 5 mile run to Brady and back, strides, a cool down run, and stretching, which is taken very seriously to prevent injuries during a run. The best part of the week is a shakeout run which is an easy run to shakeout the sore muscles from the incredibly difficult week.

Then it’s finally the day that everyone can’t wait for…  race day. “Race day is my favorite day because we mentally prepare ourselves for the pain ahead just so we can get a PR,” says Kelly Bergersen, a varsity XC runner. All of Nassau County’s XC high school teams pile into Bethpage State Park, eagerly waiting to get a good spot on the polo field and to say hello to both friends and strangers from other schools. Running is a unique atmosphere where every runner greets and encourages all competitors.  As runners approach the start line, nerves intensely kick in as they await the blow of the official’s whistle, signaling that she will imminently be shooting off the starting gun.

The line of dozens of runners becomes motionless and silent, you could hear a pin drop, and then BAM, the pistol fires and everyone bolts across the expansive polo field towards the narrow opening into the woods.

Running at Bethpage is such an all-encompassing experience…the leaves falling, the smell of the dirt trail, the umbrella of trees overhead, and the sound of a hundred pairs of spikes, all hitting the ground rhythmically.  It’s a surreal feeling that only a runner can explain. When coming out of the woods, back onto the polo field to finish the race, that’s when it hits you: your chest is tight, your legs feel like jello, your arms feel like they weigh a ton, your ears are ringing, your vision is cloudy, and it takes every ounce of energy you have left to push yourself across the finish line. Your body cries out,  “never do this to me again,” but insanely you do it over and over again. You muster up the strength, you persevere, and ultimately you finish the race. Crossing that finish line, and finally passing out on the ground, gives you the ultimate euphoric feeling.

Only cross country runners know the level of discipline required to master a race and the odd relationship with pain that pushes one forward. “Running does not just consist of moving your legs from one point to another, it consists of mentality, hard work, and dedication. I once too was a runner, and I have to say it is not easy whatsoever. You have to have the mind, the legs, and the heart to do something you’re passionate about,” says athletic director Jeanne Berkoski. Finishing a race provides the ultimate sense of gratitude and accomplishment. It is the struggle and the discomfort that makes a runner feel alive.

It may sound crazy, but instead of avoiding pain, cross country runners celebrate it by running even more. Why? Because after every run, after every excruciatingly painful race, after every asthma attack, after crossing that finish line, it gives that endorphin rush of accomplishment. It’s the moment where the pain of training transitions to exhilaration. It is knowing that it’s only you, not anyone else, who is totally responsible for your success or failure.

Now let me ask, do you think cross country is a legitimate sport?


* photo via Google Images under the Creative Commons license