Cross-country, and running in general, never will be as popular in the sporting world as the major professional sports. Football, basketball, NASCAR, baseball and even hockey always will command a larger following when it comes to watching them in person and on TV.
I think that's partially due to many people struggling to relate to simply running as a sport. Cross-country is kind of the punishment for other sports. You make a mistake during basketball or volleyball practice? Get running. Getting to play those sports is the reward for the running done during practices.
With cross-country, more running is the reward, and it’s understandable why that doesn’t appeal to many people. But look a little bit closer, and the sport is much more than that.
Cross-country is about racing. Finding a way to pass the person in front of you, or hold of the hard-charging runner behind you. Maybe throwing in a surge of speed every now and again to throw your competitors off or create separation from a pack of runners.
While it doesn’t look much like any of the other sports when it’s being played, cross-country has plenty in common with them from a competitive standpoint.
You know when a football team is leading a game by a score with a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, and it’s relying on its defense to come up with the game-winning stop? When those players are running on fumes near the end of a hard-fought game, it’s the combination of preparation and desire that makes the difference. If they really, really want it, then they’ll find the energy reserves to make a play.
The same combination — preparation and desire — comes up in 5-kilometer races all across the state during the fall. With a mile to go, or when a runner simply isn’t feeling their best on a given day, those traits either shine or they don’t.
For each of the two years I’ve been here, the Moffat County girls cross-country team has had those characteristics in bunches. Think about this year’s regional meet, when the Bulldogs took first place by one point and only beat out the third place team by three points. In cross-country, the place a runner finishes is their individual score, with the best four finishers accounting for a team score.
At those regionals, if any member of the Moffat County team decided she wasn’t feeling strong and eased off, running just 10 to 20 seconds slower, the Bulldogs would not have won the meet. But that didn’t happen last Friday. Each of them stepped up and finished right where they needed to, and they brought home another regional championship.
Saturday they compete at the ultimate gut-check race: the state championship. There will be plenty of other teams with girls as talented as Moffat County’s, and points will be at a premium. But the way this team showed up a week ago, count them out at your own risk.
Nate Waggenspack might run down to Colorado Springs, he's so pumped for the team. He can be reached at 970-875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org.