In only my 4th year coaching this wonderful sport, I've picked up a few thing about XC and the athletes:
1. XC Runners are "unique." Yes, this is code for weird. What kind of kid wants to wake up a few hours before school starts so they can get 5 miles of work in? A real special kid. A dedicated, motivated (most of the time), and focused individual that can put off the instant gratification for the larger payoff at the end of the season.
2. XC Runners love water. They can go through about 1.2 billion (yes, with a b) gallons of water in a workout. In addition, with me spouting off about the importance of proper hydration, they are drinking throughout the day and night. This is the reason for the long lines at the porta-potties at XC meets.
3. As a sport, XC does not get much respect. At the High School level, we rank just above the Anime club. I am not sure how this came to be since we RACE a 5K course. There is a difference between running a 5K and racing a 5K. Racing a 5K is pure pain from 100 meters on (if you are doing it right). You want to let up so badly as your body is screaming at you. You are racing against a seasoned senior racer, and you have something to prove. You are doing something that strikes absolute fear in the hearts of most athletes on campus. This is why XC runners get the utmost respect from me.
4. XC Runners are not shy talking about their pee and poop needs. As a runner myself, I understand. No one wants to get caught mid run having "the urges" and not be able to stop. The actual act of running encourages this, and the amount of water consumed does not help. It is openly discussed during warm ups and after meets. It is okay.
5. Heaven is wearing a pair of Nike shorts and a t-shirt all day. Every day. XC Runners generally have no interest in dressing up or pretending to be someone they are not. They are athletes and dress like it (within dress code policy, of course).
6. Every XC Runner has abs of steel that set off metal detectors at airports. It's because they are sticks. Yes, they work out like crazy and have a great core. But, it also helps they are 0.32% body fat. They are not completely ripped from head to toe, but their core is probably one of the strongest at the school (especially if their weight is taken into account)
7. Every XC Runner decides to quit XC Every season. Most do not. You know this is absolutely the truth. XC is so brutal on the body that it takes a toll on even the most seasoned runners. The ground force of each step is equivalent to 2.5 times their body weight. They slam the ground with about 300lbs of force with every foot strike (about 4000-6000 times per practice). Most of my coaching is making them mentally stronger. I'm in the business of teaching kids how to not quit when it gets tough.
8. Most XC Runners quietly laugh at sprinters...While at the same time, wish they were as speedy. Hey, we're a different breed. Yes, both athletes run, but the running itself is different, resulting in different athletes. The thought of a 4 x 200m, 2 x 100m workout is laughable to a distance runner. Our warm ups take longer than that. Our running develops a stronger respiratory and cardiovascular system in addition to the muscular strength. This takes time and miles. Period.
9. 99% of the universe thinks of XC as an individual sport. WRONG! We are a team and get scored as a team. For most meets, our Varsity consists of our top 7 runners, with the top 5 being scored based on their finish places. Add up their scores, and the team with the lowest score wins. Kind of like golf. There is a ton of strategy that takes place during the race to ensure success, including pacing, surging and running in packs. As a team sport, XC runners have each other to support and encourage them. A later blog post will be dedicated as an intro to XC that will go into this in more detail
10. XC Runners form a tight family. When you go through miles of training together and spend all day at meets, bonds form. These shared experiences make up the memories they will cherish for a long time. They share the victories and the defeats. The injuries and the breakthroughs. The bus rides to and from. The stops for lunch sometimes. The out of town meets. These all get filed away and become a part of the team experience. I'm sure other sports have their own version of this, but for me, my XC team is part of my family and will always have a special place in my heart.