Posted: October 30, 2020 by coachwestbrook in Uncategorized

It was an overcast day in northwest Georgia. The event was a high school region cross-country meet for the smallest school division in the state. Nine schools were represented although not all nine schools fielded a full team of at least five runners.

The runners were in grades nine through twelve, freshmen through seniors. The meet held a varsity girls race and a varsity boys race. After those races, a combined girls and boys junior varsity race was held. But, the meat of the meet was the varsity race in which the top four teams and top six individuals, irregardless of their team’s finishing place, qualified for the state meet in early November.

The course was a 5000 meter distance at Georgia Highlands College and good for the spectators to see most of the race. But, the general level of excitement in the runners seemed to be mired down a bit. Perhaps, it was because it was a weekday meet compared to the usual Saturday competitions. There was little evidence of runners “warming up” for the races. They walked to the starting line as if they were going to be punished.

Where were the warm-up accelerations from the starting line to get the blood into the working muscles? Where were the verbal encouragements and support to teammates immediately before the start? Where was the nervous fidgeting, jumping, stretching, drill movements by the runners that usually happens before the starter calls the runners to the starting line????


The runners were there, albeit in a quiet and repressed mood, and this complacent cloud seemed to hover over the parents and spectators also. But, the meet was about to start with the starter announcing the starting procedures to the runners on the line. He spoke, they listened while standing still and quiet…not jumping, bouncing, running in place.

I scanned the starting line to see which runners seemed ready to race. The different body shapes gave a realistic clue. The appearance of smooth running musculature told a story that the upcoming race would not go well. But, there were runners interspersed on the line with defined leg muscles that were carved by miles upon miles and interval training. Thin bodies were spread throughout the teams, but all body types were represented at the line. How they would do in the race would soon be determined. It would be strongly influenced by their off-season and seasonal training. The real runners would soon become evident.

The others…they would run to survive the ordeal. Some would start too fast because they did not have the proper preparation specifically for that purpose. Some would finish with an exceptional and long “kick” to the finish line perhaps picking up a place or two only because their pace in the previous miles was too slow. They had too much left at the end and, usually, they were too far back in the order of finish.

Overweight runners would find themselves at a slow jog or, perhaps, walking certain parts of the course as would those runners with very little training up to this date. They were scattered throughout most of the teams. Their fitness level would betray them.

Those who had laid down the off-season miles, had disciplined themselves to morning runs, had not experienced “off” days in the season, had enough mileage to support the pace of the race from start to finish…those runners had a better race day that may have included a course PR or a better tactical race. They were THE cross-country runners.

Tall, short, thick, thin, muscularly defined, smooth. That was the appearance of all the runners combined. But, as young runners tend to do, they gave their all in trying to do their best.

They had the courage of their convictions, even if their training didn’t quite measure up to those convictions. They had courage under fatigue…when everything in their immediate world was telling them to slow down, let that runner go, just make it to the finish line, just get this over with for the day.

But, they kept pushing even when they were out-of-sight on the other side of the lake and behind the trees…out-of-sight of the coaches and mom and dad. They kept trying to make themselves a better version of themselves and, thus, a better person. Most succeeded. Some did not. Those successful runners extended their season into November at the State Meet, the “should be” goal of the runners.

Will they be ready for the State Meet? What was learned from this season? What has to be done to make themselves a better runner? What does the individual have to do to make his or her team stronger?

On a cross-country course in northwest Georgia, the answers were found somewhere in those miles. Those smart runners who were serious enough about their running found those answers and will lock them in their minds and hearts in order to be a better runner and person in the future. They will run and run and run. That would be dedication to a goal…the essence of a runner.

How much better? Only the heart and mind can determine that.

(Richard Westbrook)

(Oct. 30, 2020)

  1. Shelley says:

    Cross Country lives on.

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