Lessons from Cross Country

This past Saturday I was able to attend a cross country meet of my former high school.  I knew a couple of students running; one was actually a former student of mine! It was the first meet I have been to in probably 14 years, and I had an absolute blast.The meet was at a school named St. Lawrence, and they have a beautiful campus and course.  Having run the course myself many years ago, I knew how difficult it was. St. Lawrence is home to the infamous hill named, “Big Bertha,” and as the name implies, she’s huge.  All the runners did a wonderful job.


I can’t believe how much fun I had as a spectator; the energy, the simplicity of the sport, the beautiful course, and the determination of young athletes reminded me of the many reasons I love this sport. There’s something about watching  people, especially young men and women, run when you know how difficult it is. This is running at its purest and simplest. These kids are running for the pure competition of the sport. There are no participation t-shirts or medals. There are no age group awards. The competition is fierce, but for most of the runners, it’s only a competition against the guy in the mirror.

It got me nostalgic for cross country days, but it also made me realize how much I wanted that simplicity back.

Without much commitment or effort, I had some of my best running in high school. (If I had actually tried, who knows what my times would have been.) I joined cross country just for something to do; I didn’t really have an interest in the sport. At that time, girls ran a 4k for meets. At the first meet, I just about died. The time I have recorded is 25 minutes, and that’s only because they stopped the clock at 25 minutes. Who knows how long it actually took me.  But as the season went on, I ran faster, without putting much thought into it. I just showed up, ran, and tried to beat my previous time.  Which I almost always did. Our coach would have us do hills or speedwork, which I did, but if we were left on our own, I rarely ran the tempos he instructed us to do, and I have vivid memories of skipping runs because I didn’t feel like doing them. (I know, I had a bad attitude; I regret that now.)

And yet, I still managed to improve. My best time for the 4k was 19:50 (with an injury!). In the span of a couple of months I shaved 5-10 minutes off of my first meet’s time! There was no stressing over paces, no checking times or splits. I didn’t worry about how much sleep I got, or whether or not my body could finish a run. Basically, there was no thinking about it.

I have a vivid memory of running in a meet in a pair of borrowed races flats. It must have been a good day for me, because I felt like I was flying. What I remember is even though my lungs were burning, it didn’t bother me. My legs felt like they had a mind of their own. I didn’t have to tell  myself to speed up or keep going. I just ran. No thought needed.

Saturday’s meet reminded me of all of that, and it made me realize I want to capture that feeling back.  Not the bad attitude part, but the simplicity of it. To run without a time or pace chirping in my ear. To move quickly without thought of how uncomfortable I am, or how I can’t do it.

My new goal is to get that back. Not just the speed; I’d love to be at a 7min/mile pace for a 5k again. (Or even better!)

I want to run without thought or stress.

I want to push my body and see what it can do without pouring over a training log or a pace calculator.

I want to run by feel and let my running unfold as it will.

I want to recapture the competition with my self.

I want to run without devices telling me how I’m doing, or distracting me from discomfort.

I want to capture the pure simplicity back.

That’s not to say I’ll never run with my phone again or my running apps. Or that I won’t check my training schedule to see what I’m running this week. But I want to capture that, let’s call it “youthful ignorance” back.

What does that mean?

  • Less running with my phone/music/podcasts/gps.
  • Let my body dictate pace. Hard will be whatever feels hard, and easy will be whatever feels easy. No times.
  • Take races one bit at a time. Don’t worry about the clock, just catch up to the person in front of you.
  • Have fun. Run with people. Run with my kids. Run barefoot. Play running games.
  • Warm up. (I’m older now, but often skip the warm up. That’s bad. I always did them in cross country practice.)

I’m hoping that not only will I get more enjoyment out of my running, but my times will improve.


No thinking. Just running.



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