By Mike Smith
Safe to say, this isn’t what I envisioned for this cross country season. As an athlete, I always saw cross country as a liberation compared to track which has you confined to the precision and repetition that a 400 meter oval exacts. Not only that but the season starts under sweltering conditions and ends often in near blizzard ones. Changeability is the name of the game.
These changes will still happen but we will definitely see some new actions become “normalized” this season as well. Safety becoming priority one in a much different way than usual, we find ourselves doing things that almost seem opposite of what we feel cross country is supposed to be… No more big invitationals. No award ceremonies. No more warming up and cooling down with athletes outside your “bubble.” And while some people lament the state of the sport during this pandemic, I for one am learning to accept, and even find enjoyment in our new rules and regulations that safely guide the sport this season.
As a lifelong runner, the idea of putting on a mask and going for a run is a foreign one. Lets face it, people running with masks on harkens back to western movies with guys with bandanas exiting a bank or the Point Break boys with the Dead President masks. But to say it’s too difficult to run with a mask is a misnomer. Any year round runner has already worn a mask during the depths of winter or wished they had. So to pretend it’s too hard to breathe or that you can’t get enough oxygen with a mask on is ridiculous. Might not be as comfortable and make things a little tougher, but considering COVID impacts your respiratory system, possibly leaving long term damage to the lungs with the possibility of death, I say suck it up buttercup.
As I follow some of the pro groups on Instagram and have been following what little actual track and field is happening across the globe, I’ve been encouraged by seeing the way these events and workouts have been conducted. With the New Balance Boston team not far down the road, I’ve seen those team members out on the trails around the city wearing buffs, or neck gaiters, all this summer. While not having them covering their nose and mouth all the time, the ability to pull them up when necessary seems like a good plan. Watching the Bowerman and the Big Friendly meets with the athletes, officials and coaches masked up, along with athletes removing their masks before competing, makes me feel comfortable we can pull off a season without risking the health of our athletes and those family members close to them.
In the book “Running with the Buffaloes”, which chronicles the University of Colorado’s 1996 season, coach Mark Wetmore has a quote that reads, “Why are we here at 6:30? (am) It makes their lives a little more difficult, and that serves to callous them a little more and develop a sense of shared sacrifice.” So don’t think of wearing a mask as a hindrance, but a training tool to help get you to where you want to be anyway. And don’t think of these times, this pandemic, as some big tragedy, but as an opportunity to callous oneself not just in the adversity that makes cross country so great, but to the difficulties in life that provides us perspective, and recognize other parts of our lives that are great as well. The ability to get out there and do what we love, with our teammates, and see what we’re made of.