It's cross country season!

It’s cross country season!

A time of year when thousands of high school cross country runners cover the course, race with the pack and run to finish.

Our son, Mason, has decided to become part of this elite group. I was beaming last fall when he told me he was considering this sport. I was a six-year cross country athlete in high school and it was the best years of my life.

My fellow cross country runners and I were a family. Individual goals differed from athlete to athlete, but we all competed for the betterment of the team–and meant it.

Together we attended weekly pizza feeds and traveled to invitational meets. If you were committed, you lettered even if you never ran a varsity race. On our team it didn’t matter if you were a seventh-grader, new and green to running, or a seasoned veteran in your last year of high school–we were a family. We shared the joys of a team win, celebrated each other’s individual best times and ran together when it was cold and hot and sometimes miserable. We shared our lives, our experiences and the camaraderie that comes with being a part of something bigger than yourself. Wins or losses, injuries or health, we shared it all.

That’s what makes cross country so great– it’s about inclusion and being part of a “club.”

I want, more than anything, for Mason to feel that same way.

In an effort to help him train I began my own running program weeks in advance. I imagined running along beside him, giving him pointers, and carrying on the cross country pride I had felt nearly 20 years ago.

However, training for a sport two decades later was a lot harder than I remembered. This summer Mason and I ran once together and after the first mile when I was sucking air and he hadn’t even broken a sweat, he asked if he could run ahead because my pace was, in his words, “painstakingly slow.” After that experience I resorted to riding bike along side him as he ran.

My promise to him this summer was that I would help him train. And then life–and summer–got away from us. We ran a little, but both of us knew it wasn’t going to cut it.

Three days before practice he began to look strained about our lack of dedication to a training regiment that seemed perfect at the beginning of summer.

I assured him he would do fine, and then silently prayed I was right.

I remember my first day of cross country. I didn’t know you should pace yourself so I stayed with the senior runners, who had trained all summer, because I didn't want to be left behind. I think we only ran two miles that first practice, but it felt like a marathon.

After practice when my mom came to pick me up she asked me how it had gone. My face was beet red and an hour after practice I felt like I still couldn’t catch my breath. As I shoved my sweaty gym bag in the back of the car and slammed the car door shut I told her that I was never going back.

Thankfully I did.

But then after high school I said I wasn’t into it anymore and I didn’t put on another running shoe until two years ago. The wind in my face and the pavement pounding under my feet lit a spark in me again.

Running clears my head, helps me solve problems, helps me get to a place that I can’t get to other than when I’m out on a run. I need that. I want that back.

Runners are a breed of their own. Running takes a lot of time, sacrifice and dedication. We run for acceptance, camaraderie, self-esteem, conditioning and personal records. While out on a run, nothing else matters.

That is the spirit of cross country I want Mason to embrace.