Riker Rants: Best and Worst of Cross Country

Hey guys! The seasons for my two favorite sports are starting in just a couple days- football and cross country. While I enjoy watching football on TV, cross country is special because it’s a sport that I compete in and I spend over 10 hours a week practicing and racing for it. This season will mark my fourth season running cross country and third running for my high school. Though I love the sport, there are some negatives mixed in with the positives, and today I’ll talk about both the best and the worst of cross country.

Best: People

I’ll start off with the best of the best- the people that make cross country special. I’ll put all of my coaches, teammates, and even competitors in this category, because the relationships I’ve built with them mean more to me than any race I’ve run in my career. Without cross country, I wouldn’t have known many of these people and wouldn’t have such awesome, supportive friends.

Worst: Race Pictures

When you race, you don’t think about how your face looks (usually). This is especially the case in the last stretch of a race, where your only goal is to finish. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve had less luck with my racing pics than my school pictures, and that’s saying something.

Best: Post-race sensation

Running hurts and the pain is an expected part of the sport. But after you cross the line, the overwhelming feeling of relief just defies explanation. Nothing feels better than running a great race and knowing you left it all on the course.

Worst: Being passed in the final straightaway

Nothing is worse than realizing that you’ve run out of gas before the finish line when there are competitors around. Being passed at the very end of a race is demoralizing, frustrating, and compounds the pain that was built up throughout the race. And it usually doesn’t lead to a great result.

Best: Ability to compete with the best in the state

During my high school career, I’ve had the opportunity to run on my school’s varsity team and have run at the state meet three times in four opportunities. Though competition can be stressful, I enjoy racing against the best runners in the county and state and planning strategies on how to beat my toughest competitors. As a huge fan of pro sports, it’s also awesome to be up with the best of them and read all the articles about my team.

Worst: Waiting before races

My least favorite part of the state championships is the pre-race nerves. Usually, I don’t get nervous before races, but at the state meet there is an abundance of times before the races. Coupled with the importance of those meets, the pre-race time can be a breeding ground for nerves.

Best: Nice Courses

In track and field, every track is basically the same. Not the case in cross country. The best courses are wonders of nature and are top-notch venues to watch and compete on race day. Some of my favorites include Track n Trail in Elkton, Maryland and the NXR Course in Cary, North Carolina, which are joys to compete on, if there’s good weather.

Worst: Sudden stops/mixups and bottlenecks, inclement weather

For every amazing course, there’s an equal number of abominations. Tight turns and hard surfaces are two of the common pitfalls of cross country courses. Usually, weather doesn’t play too big a role in racing, as my best-ever cross country race was in 40 degrees and my best track race was in 94, but I highly dislike muddy, dusty, or scorching conditions.

Best: Team-Bonding Activities, such as spaghetti dinners, talent shows, pizza parties, and banquets

Sometimes, the best parts of cross country don’t require you to run a single meter. I’m talking about the team bonding activities that our team has put on over the years, including but not limited to spaghetti dinners, team competitions, and pizza parties. And I’m pleased to say that at Wootton XC, we’ve made banquets great again. B-CC, Churchill, Walter Johnson, Dulaney, and Severna Park don’t hold a candle to our post-season parties.

Worst: Divisional meets

The fewer meets, the better, and divisional meets have the fewest implications on the cross country season and typically are held on inferior courses. But it is amusing to watch teams struggle to get up our home course’s infamous Frost Hill.

Best: Exploring on road runs

Going into my freshman year, I didn’t know any of the routes and had to run 6:30 pace just to keep up with our top guys so I didn’t get lost. Now, I know my way around and take pride in being the Magellan of the cross country team.

Worst: Having to go to the bathroom during a run

Let’s just say that I have a… stain or two on my record.

Best: Improvements (Time/Place)

One of the coolest parts of running is the clear improvement that comes with hard effort. I also enjoy comparing my times and places over the years and setting, and hopefully reaching, goals.

Worst: Cramps/Injuries

I’m thankful that I’ve never been sidelined by an injury, so for me, this is more about cramps. I’ve had a couple races go south when a crippling side stitch comes into play. Ouch.

Best: Championship Moments

I’m ending on a good note- championship triumphs. Our goal every year is to peak during championship season, and when everything comes together at the perfect time, there’s no better feeling. Our cross country county championship my freshman year and my states race my sophomore year were two of my favorite memories ever as a cross country racer.

Enjoy the upcoming school year and cross country season, and I’ll see you round!

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