I run high school cross country. I do not run because I like to be on a team, because my friends do it, or to get some exercise. I run to win, and I run because I love it.
In essence, all cross country runners aspire to win, even if that aspiration is locked away deep inside their scrawny frames. No one has joined a team without the thought “What if I turn out to be great?” Even the people we would consider “rejects” from the rest of the sporting world want to win, and even if they ended up in the shallow end of the endurance gene pool, then they want to win in their own right. It could be against a teammate, a competitor, or just their old PR that their always embarrassed to have to tell aunts and uncle’s at Christmas when they ask “So how fast are you?” Everyone true distance runner has the desire and will to win buried somewhere deep inside of them, and if we didn’t, we wouldn’t put ourselves through pain we hadn’t realized was possible until we hit the track for our first interval workout. The will to win can often be shot down by the morbid reality that is, well, reality, but that is what makes Summer training so great.
Summer training is not reality. Summer training is something better. In Summer training our will to win is never stronger. There are no finish lines, so there can be no failures. All we know is that we’re putting our bodies through torture at the crack of dawn six days a week, and we love it. Each workout holds new challenges to be accepted and completed, each long run a new limit to be tested, and each day another step forward to be taken. During Summer training, we are all Galen Rupp, and Leo Manzano, and Matt Centrowitz. There are no races to remind us of our limits, no result sheets to look at with heads hung low, only opportunity. Even if we’re lagging behind teammates we know we should be running with, or not hitting the splits we want, there is always time. Time to improve, to recover, time to motivate. During the actual season, after each race that doesn’t meet our expectations, we begin to seriously question the attainability of our goals, as we second guess our fitness and our toughness, and run each workout trying to be the runner we think we should be, not the runner who we want to become.
I love Summer running with all my heart, as I have probably made abundantly clear already. I love cursing having to run early in the morning, only to thank the very coach I was cursing as I imagine how it would be to run in the afternoon heat. I love the friends, the lack of sleep, and the exhaustion. I love that when we and my teammates are out at night, we all know to get home a little earlier when we have mile repeats the next day.
I may make Summer running sound like a fun time to be had by all, but in all seriousness, it is also time to get down to business. Every good runner knows that without a solid Summer’s worth of training, your hopes for the season are pretty much up in smoke, especially for a team trying to win a State title. But I love that about Summer running too. I’m a run junkie, and I take solace in the fact that every single one of our runners in the Olympics was doing roughly the same thing I’m doing now in high school. They were screwing around with friends, and dreading hill repeats, and getting up early to get their mileage in, just like me.
In all likelihood, I will not grow up to be an Olympian, and I probably won’t make a dime running professionally,all though I’d sure as hell like to. But as I said, Summer training gives each and every high school runner some hope that they will make it big, that they will break down that barrier that lets them join the elite. Summer training gives us all hope that we can be great.