Yesterday I did something that took me back in time to why I fell in love with cross country. I walked on some trails at a local park and was reminded what is so great about the sport.
During the week I usually just walk around my neighborhood. I live about a mile from a local park and on weekends will often do a loop on the paved path there. But I have not been on the actual trails of a park in a long time.
The main reason is I no longer go on trials is because I’ve stopped running so I don’t worry about the softer surface of the trails which involve less pounding than the pavement. For safety reasons I also stay on main, visible trails. But yesterday was such a beautiful fall day and I was walking in the middle of the day instead of early so I decided to do a loop around the trails I used to run on.
I have to admit there is something so special about this time of year with the fall foliage and the crisp air. I love the crunch of the leaves that have fallen under my feet. I love the escape the trails provide, a little time of just me and nature and not worrying about anything else.
And that’s what brought me back to my cross country days. This is the best time of year to run. Yes some trails get a little dicey footing wise as it gets towards the end of the season and they become covered in leaves, but after years of running and using short steps and turnover, you can safely make it through and also learn what trails to avoid this time of year. There was the late afternoon practices where you would finish up before it got dark and be cooled by the crisp air as practice ended. There was the opportunity to explore so many beautiful parks: Washington Crossing State Park, Princeton Battlefield, Tyler State Park to name a few.
I miss the challenge of the terrain in cross country: the hills to crest, the bowls or loops to pace around for intervals, the grass fields to sprint across at the start or end of a race.
When I coached, I miss the fun of waiting for runners to come out of a “hidden” part of a course and seeing and hoping your team is running well and in a good position. As a runner I love the mix of open and “hidden” parts of the course, the quiet part of the course followed by the yelling of coaches and teammates as you enter another open area.
I miss the naturalness of the sport. There is something so fun about running through the mud or puddles or jumping over logs or small creeks. It was always fun to cross the old school wooden bridge at Princeton Battlefield or to step over the rocks to cross onto the towpath there during practice runs. It’s fun to navigate the many twists and turns of a course and plan when to make your move or attack. It’s fun to follow the arrows (wasn’t there an old Sesame Street song that said this?) through the grass and woods as if you’re on you’re own quest or adventure.
This probably sounds so cheesy and romanticized which may be happening as I reminisce as I get older. But after years of running and coaching the sport, it will always have a special place in my heart. There are of course many great memories of teammates, coaches and moments from the sport as well but I am just talking about the simple and natural beauty of the sport that makes it so special.
As I walked the trails yesterday I almost felt like starting to run on what used to be one of favorite high school cross country courses, but realized how stupid that would be given that I haven’t run in years, still had one drain in and was a week removed from surgery. But I was so captured by the beauty of the fall and trails, I was taken back to my xc days and why I loved and will always love the sport.
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