The purpose of Cross Country

Cross Country (ˈkrȯs-ˈkən-trē) -- noun

  1. a long race held over open ground

While accurate, that simple definition does not capture this sport's true essence. It is a sport designed to test grit, determination, focus, and stamina.

And it is pure. Perhaps the purest and most straightforward of all sports. "Hey, let's race!" "Ok, how far?" "5K, how does that sound?" "Good." "Let's go!" And that's it. I am going to beat you, and you better bring your best.

Simple. It's simple. No gear, shin guards, shoulder pads, or knee pads. Just racing. Just running. Just me trying to beat you in a foot race. Beat you and beat me.

It reminds me of the tradition of the marathon, the ultimate foot race. The idea for the modern marathon was inspired by the legend of an ancient Greek messenger who raced from the site of Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40 kilometers, or nearly 25 miles, with the news of a significant Greek victory over an invading army of Persians in 490 B.C. After making his announcement, the exhausted messenger collapsed and died. Talk about leaving it all on the course.

But that's what cross country is… A foot race where runners punish themselves for proving their worth on the course. But most importantly, to prove their worth to themselves. It's the ultimate form of self-improvement and one of the only sports where each race can quantify self-improvement. After all, cross-country runners only compete against themselves, chasing that personal record each time.

I love cross country. I've coached it for a decade after being a football coach for three years. I love its simplicity, and I love how pure it is. The bottom line, the clock tells the tale, and it's me against the best I've ever done. Every athlete that toes the start line of a cross-country race embarks on a journey of self-denial and self-improvement at the same time. They must balance the punishment they inflict on themselves with the distance they run. Go too hard too fast, and you're toast. Wait too long to turn it on, and you leave seconds, maybe minutes, out on the course.

But that's just it; it's a journey. A journey of self-denial and self-improvement. A journey of chasing your best and beating the clock. A trip that is rewarded because of miles logged, sweat poured, knees skinned, and sheer determination to be better than you were before.

So that race over open ground is more than just a foot race. It's a race to become the best version of yourself.