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Cross Country: Underrated and Underappreciated

A (biased) look at running as a competitive sport.

August 30, 2022

Let’s be honest: no one cares about competitive running. It is arguably one of the most boring sports to watch, just barely ahead of baseball and golf. Nobody wants to watch a group of sweaty, exhausted runners wearing short-shorts jog around a dirt trail for 15-25 minutes. Or, in the case of longer races, for hours on end. And why would anyone in their right mind ever actually want to participate in that madness? Today, I am going to give you the answers to these burning questions. In doing so, perhaps I will provide you with a deeper understanding of this crazy sport called cross country running. 

To answer these questions, we must go back to the beginning. Running first came into existence over 2 million years ago. It is widely believed that the ability was developed by our ancestors in order to more efficiently hunt wild animals. The earliest known records of competitive racing didn’t appear until around 1171 B.C.E., once we had gotten ourselves a little more organized. Running became a monumental component of the first Olympics, taking place in Ancient Greece in 776 B.C.E. Unlike most newer sports, the basic concepts and rules of running haven’t changed: a group of runners line up at the start, and the first person to reach the end of the course wins the race. 

It seems simple enough, right? That was my thinking when I joined San Dieguito Academy’s cross country team in my freshman year of high school. I knew that the sport didn’t require much equipment and that the rules were straightforward. I also came into the sport unaware of the time commitment and dedication that is required.

Everyone who takes cross country seriously will tell you that running requires sacrifice. You must have the strength to give up a part of each day to undergo pain, soreness, and exhaustion. Never slowing down. Finishing every workout to the best of your ability. Constantly pushing yourself to do better and reach the goals you have set for yourself. Day after day, month after month, and year after year. And maybe, if you get through all that, you might just shave off a couple seconds from your mile time.

The amount of training and dedication that can go into a single race is unparalleled. Everything that you’ve prepared for is unleashed in its full potential. Nothing compares to the feeling of finishing a race, filled with adrenaline and elation, proud of what you and your team has accomplished.  Cross country can be seen as both an individual sport and a team sport; you run for yourself, trying to get the best time that you can. At the same time, you run for your team, cheering and supporting everyone before, during, and after the race.

It is one of the few sports in which everyone – regardless of what team they run for – pushes each other to run harder. Two runners on opposite teams could have been neck-and-neck throughout the entire competition, one beating the other by less than a second, and both runners would still congratulate and applaud each other’s efforts. After all, neither one could have run the race as they did without the other.

One has to look more closely to appreciate the finer details of cross country running; details that make it the incredible sport that it is. I feel that the best way to actually enjoy running – the action itself, as well as watching other people do it – is to experience it yourself.

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About the Contributor
Photo of Haden Macdonald
Haden Macdonald, Staff Writer

"Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever."

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Comments (8)

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  • K

    kateSep 13, 2022 at 5:47 pm

    well said Haden ??

  • M

    MayoSep 13, 2022 at 8:23 am


  • J

    JustinSep 6, 2022 at 6:54 pm


  • D

    Daniel J McDowellSep 6, 2022 at 6:13 pm

    Great article Mr. Haden Macdonald, just so you know I shared this the other day on our running club open page and your article has since received quite the interest and has been re-shared about 20 times over; even by some of my college XC coaching friends – I can appreciate the entire scope of your article and your views, thank you,” I believe you knocked it out of the park! keep up the good work and thank you again. Daniel from West Virginia: SWVRRC, Southern WV Road Runners Club

  • G

    GeoSep 5, 2022 at 6:31 pm

    Nice story. For most people running is torture or a form of cardio.
    Like many distance runners, cross country was my first and only love. I started the sport when my high school cancelled their soccer program. My first running shoes were actually flats and my first spikes were a half size small. I would not trade anything back as those were the times when I was raw with tireless hunger.

  • A

    AndreaSep 5, 2022 at 10:21 am

    Enjoyed your article. My son is a 16 year old CC and track runner. I ran in high school and DII in college a long time ago. Competitive running is greatly under-appreciated but there’s no better test of endurance, persistence and resilience—these are the exact skills needed do well in another sport—Life.

  • T

    Tommy SmithSep 5, 2022 at 7:05 am

    Thanks for this article, cross country has so much more to give than just being a competitive athlete.
    The life lessons learned through this sport are unequaled by most other, as I tell my teams it’s the purest form of athleticism that is required in all other sports.
    Thanks again for a insightful article.
    Tommy Smith
    Head coach Cathedral XC TF
    Natchez Ms

  • K

    KeithSep 4, 2022 at 6:27 am

    Well described sir and it explains everything that I went through from highschool grade 9 to my still running cross country races in my early 50s. Unfortunately all of those miles have taken their toll and now I inline skate regularly.