If you’ve never been to an XC meet, you don’t know what you are missing. It’s an experience vastly different than any football or basketball game. Here’s a brief list of just a few things that make XC meets such a wonderfully unique event.
Team tents. Each team brings and sets up their own tent and carves out a little area to call their own. This is a place for the team to congregate before and after each race. A place to warmup and stretch. A place to simply hang out with friends. Each invite actually looks like a little city temporarily set up for each team. Setting up and taking down the tents is like it’s own exercise in team building with upperclassmen helping to show the younger ones what needs to be done and how to do it.
There’s a race for everyone. From the slowest runner just trying to get to the finish line, to the thoroughbreds racing for the top spots; everyone gets a chance to compete. Every athlete trains hard during the week, and they each get their chance to show what they can do on race day. Although the top races are limited to 7 runners per team, open races are completely unlimited. Often times teams with have 20 or more runners trying to squeeze in their starting box. Often the runners in these open races are the heart and soul of teams, and they get a chance to compete just as much as any other athletes. And there are awards! Every major invite finishes with an award ceremony celebrating the accomplishments of the top runners. Teams sit together, cheer and chant for their fellow teammates who earned an award.
Parents and spectators and parents are right in on the action. As a spectator you can get right up along the course to cheer on the runners. Spectators can be involved as much or as little as desired. Pull up a lawn chair and wait for the runners to come to you. Most courses have loops where one can stay in one place and see the runners several times. Other spectators take it up a notch and will run from point to point to see the runners a few more times. If you ever go to the state meet at Detweiller Park in Peoria, you will see a wave of hundreds of people running from side to side across the center of the field for the chance to cheer their team on. In the hopes of catching an extra glimpse of their child, parents often find that they need to get in a little better shape and bring their own running shoes to meets. As an XC spectator you are intimately involved with the meet itself.
Scenery. Early fall mornings in a forest preserve are a wonderful backdrop for XC meets. From the dew on the grass to the changing of the leaves on the trees, there is no better setting for an athletic competition. Courses at forest preserves like Leroy Oakes or parks like Veteran Acres embody what it means to be a true cross country course. With hills that have names, varied terrain, and natural prairies and woods, athletes are truly running across the country when they compete at courses like these.
Competition and sportsmanship. XC athletes know when they toe the line they are not only competing against a hundred other athletes, but they are also competing with these same athletes. Moments after exerting maximum effort to out kick a competitor, once the finish line is crossed, athletes can often be seen shaking hands, sharing a hug, or helping a competitor up off the ground. Athletes often find that their competitors pushed them to a faster time and a better race, and they all share the same experience of suffering over a 3 mile race. This is a bond that crosses the boundaries of schools and teams.
Now that you know a little of what to expect at an XC invite, go out there and experience it for yourself. Meets are normally held every Saturday morning, and there is likely to be one near you. I know I am looking forward to experiencing the first meet of the season on Saturday and best wishes to all those toeing the line!
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