Not a walk in the park

Updated: May 7, 2019

Yesterday I got to watch my teammates compete at the NCAA Division II Cross Country National meet. When I say “watch” I mean I got to view the race from the comfort of my own bed on my laptop, while they were running through the cold and rain. They finished 19th in the nation and we now have one new All-American!


The meet took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The course was full of hills and there were so many turns and they (the girls) had to do three loops of it. You can imagine any grassy park would get torn up and messy after a herd of nearly 300 people ran over it three times over the course of 6,000 meters. But to make matters worse, the girls had to run after the guys completed 10,000 meters on that same course and it started to rain just before the gun signaled the beginning of their race.


It was a muddy disaster.


Everyone’s legs were caked with dirt as they crossed the finish line. You could see their feet sinking into the earth with every step they took. And when they finished, the girls would stumble forward a few meters before falling on the ground. Finish line workers were carrying the girls out of the way and trying to keep them upright. It looked absolutely miserable.


And it makes you wonder…Why in the world would anyone voluntarily do that? Why would anyone want to run for miles through a muddy park only to collapse at the end of it?


Cross country is unlike any other sport. The general population doesn’t travel across the country to watch a meet. They don’t gather to tailgate in a parking lot or sit down in someone’s living room to cheer on their favorite teams. Unless you yourself are an avid runner or you are a parent or close friend of a runner, you probably aren’t going to watch a cross country meet. So obviously people don’t run for any sort of fame or glory.


I don’t really think you can consider cross country to be “fun” either. It’s definitely not a comfortable thing and it doesn’t come with the same satisfaction that a sport like basketball or football offers. In other sports, you can burn someone in a one on one situation and make a great play. You can block a shot or intercept a pass. There are lots of cool things that happen over the course of the competition. In cross country? You might cheer when someone passes an opponent on a curve or gets negative splits throughout the race.


So why do it?


I think people run simply for the joy of working hard. You can win a basketball game even if you took a couple of breaks. But in a race you have no time for breaks. Once the gun goes off you’ve got to be all in and competitive for the duration. And that uncomfortable feeling that comes when you collapse at the finish line might just be one of the most comforting feelings of all because you can trust that you worked as hard as you could.


There is something satisfying about working hard towards a goal. Sure, it’s uncomfortable at that moment, but the cramps fade away and the sweat will dry. And if you get a couple of scars and bruises along the way, you’ll have something to show for your efforts.


Watching my teammates work so hard on that mucky course was inspiring. It made me want to work harder and have goals worth striving for. I believe a life full of hard work towards a goal is more purposeful. And it doesn’t just have to be a quantitive goal necessarily. You could be working hard for your family or your friends, whatever it may be.


If our life was simply to go through a park, wouldn’t you rather have something motivating you to finish? We can either run through this park, giving it our all and collapse at the end with satisfaction, or we can come out the other side, slightly winded after a little stroll. We’re all in this same race of life, it’s up to you to choose how you run it.


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© 2020 by Calli Townsend.