Cross Country: “My sport is your sport’s punishment”

Rarely in the fall sports spotlight, running offers mental and physical health benefits.

Linganore+leads+the+way+at+the+Maryland+Cross+Country+Invitational+hosted+by+Charm+City.

Courtesy of Dave Spears

Linganore leads the way at the Maryland Cross Country Invitational hosted by Charm City.

“Five laps around the school!” 

In many sports, this direction might be met with frustration and groaning.  Running is an intense physical activity that is often used to discipline athletes who might’ve stepped out of line. 

But in cross country, running is what they do.

Senior and captain of the boys’ cross country team Jack Sears recently placed first in the 5,000 meters varsity men’s race with a score of 16:54.78. Sears said, “I have been running for four years now. I started doing a little running in eighth grade and got serious as a freshman. I love running because I can challenge myself to be the absolute best I can be, while at the same time being part of a team.”

Racing down hills in the heat of the summer to freezing practices in late fall might seem crazy at first. The cross country slogan “My sport is your sport’s punishment” is a badge of honor among runners, but cross country has some of the best health benefits and can be extremely fulfilling for young athletes.

Going The Extra Mile

Training is the most important part of cross country. The team runs 5-6 miles at every day.

“It’s beneficial in a lot of ways,” junior Isaac Hanson said. “You can’t really spend a lot of time lying around, so it kind of forces you to organize yourself more.” 

Coach Andres Wright said, “During practice, we always warm up for four minutes as a team, and then we do dynamic drills, which is a series of drills to loosen up the muscles you use during a run. Then I go over the days’ workout and we have a cool-down. Two days a week we do static stretching and two days a week we do core exercises.” 

The team also has meets almost every week. “During a typical cross country meet, we inspect the course for important landmarks, do a warm-up an hour before the race and compete as best we can on that particular day. Afterwards we jog to cool down and talk about how the race went,” Sears said. 

It can be difficult to keep up with the intensity of the sport, but worthwhile at the finish line. Senior and captain of the girls’ team CiCi Perrone said,  “The most difficult thing as a runner is reminding yourself to just keep pushing. I always think ‘mind over matter’ when racing to help remind myself to never give up.” Perrone placed second in the county in the 5,000 meters varsity women’s race with a score of 19:18.69. 

Happy And Healthy

Long-distance running has many benefits such as strengthening lungs, increasing blood flow and lowering high blood pressure. It can also reduce risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and different types of cancer.

As well as physical health, it can also impact mental health. Running naturally releases endorphins that can improve mood and lower anxiety. 

“Running is a great way to deal with stress, “ Perrone said. “When I get overwhelmed, running is such a great way to calm down. I love the feeling after you finish a hard workout.”

Of course like all sports, athletes are susceptible to injury. “Fall of my junior year [I had] a grade three stress fracture in my foot,” Sears said. “During that time I went to physical therapy, did indoor cycling and strengthening exercises. Even though it was a very long process, it was important not to come back too quickly to prevent further injury.”

What we do is not always the healthiest, because we’re pushing our bodies to the limits. But distance running is very healthy in moderation,” Wright said. “The best thing is when you’re a runner in high school, you can be a runner for the rest of your life. So I think it’s a sport where it’s very healthy, because it’s very flexible and you can do it for a long time.” 

Smells Like Team Spirit

Walking into the end of a cross country practice, people are packing up their stuff, laughing and smiling with their teammates. 

“The atmosphere on the team is so great. We all have such great talks during warm ups and we have great laughs together,” Perrone said. “We’re a family, in a sense.”

We’re a family, in a sense. ”

— CiCi Perrone

The girls’ cross country team poses for a photo at the Bull Run Invitational in Hereford. (Courtesy of Brent Ayer)

This view is shared by fellow athletes on the team. “I like the team aspect of it the most,” Hanson said. “I like just hanging out with people.”

“This is uniquely a team where everyone really supports each other,” Wright said. “We race only seven in the varsity, and the rest race in the junior varsity open. And whenever the varsity is done racing, they’re running all over the course, screaming and yelling for their teammates even though they’re tired and they’ve already run. So that really shows you on our toughest days and races, they really support each other.”

(Don’t) Go Running For The Hills

“The hardest part for me is the feeling of letting my team down when I have a bad race. Even if they don’t blame me, I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform the best for my team,” Sears said. 

Runners sprint forward at the beginning of the Central Maryland Cross Country Championship in Boonsboro. (Courtesy of Dave Spears)

“It’s not for everyone,” Wright said. “It’s a very mental sport. I think when people think of cross country, they think, ‘Oh, I hate running’  but they don’t realize that when you dedicate yourself, it’s a sport where it’s very complicated.”

“If anybody saw the start of a cross country race, with 500 runners at the same time sprinting for the first corner, then they would understand what we do,” Wright said. 

“A lot of these athletes, we’re very different. We’re very diverse. We all bond together because we’re doing the same thing,” Wright said. “When you ask me about me being part of the team, it’s the hard workouts, the steady runs, the long runs on weekends when we run in different places, it develops a culture of a distance runner. So that’s why I think the athletes enjoy the sport.”

If anybody saw the start of a cross country race, with 500 runners at the same time sprinting for the first corner, then they would understand what we do.”

— Andres Wright

“The biggest motivation to me is to improve my times,” Perrone said. “I love to see what I am capable of when I push myself as hard as I can in a race. And the feeling after you have a good race is honestly the best feeling ever. My teammates are also a huge motivation and pushing and working with each other is such a good way to improve.”

The next meet will take place on November 4 at Governor Thomas Johnson for the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association 3A West Region Championships.

Follow along with the cross country team for meet dates and results at https://www.athletic.net/CrossCountry/School.aspx?SchoolID=18970