All athletic involvement has room to shape a person’s character, but cross country tops the list.
When I reflect on my years as a competitive runner, I see someone who’s learned the importance of dedication and patience. Its values have the power to follow me on and off the course, and that’s one of the most admirable things about cross country. The lessons an athlete takes away from distance running are incomparable to any other sport. Here’s the three most impactful ones:
You are going to fail.
Get used to it. My first race was when I was 10-years-old. I finished last. Not all races will be good ones, just like not all things in life will go as planned: not selected for a job, failing a test, the list goes on and on. But how you react, how you learn from your mistakes and how you apply your failures to achieve greatness, that’s how you build yourself up again. As motivational speaker Catherine Plano said, “The comeback is always stronger than the setback.”
You can give up now, but it’s going to be far more painful than anything else you could have done.
Running fast hurts. The feeling of accomplishment at the finish makes it worth it. The feelings of self-doubt and stress when starting your career can be exhausting, but giving up on yourself will haunt you much longer than persevering through those emotions. Cross country teaches you that you’re far more capable of things you never thought you could do.
Enjoy “The Now.”
Eleven years after my first meet, I’m running down the final 100 meters of my last collegiate cross-country race. For a split second, I’m tempted to slow down, to soak up the feeling just a bit longer because I’m not ready to say goodbye. But I don’t, and I finished in the top 20 that day with a season best time. In life, it’s easy to want to hold onto a moment forever. Goodbyes are tough. But trying to hold onto a memory forever makes it hard to create more, and in doing so, you’ll never know what else you could have accomplished in that period.