Opinion: Your sport isn’t as hard as cross country

Cross country is the hardest sport Urban has to offer. It is rarely considered enjoyable, and at many other sports practices coaches make athletes run as a punishment for slacking off. The sport becomes especially challenging when spread over the 5,000 meters (approximately 3 miles) that comprise a typical high school cross country race. It is a team sport characterized by its individualism. Runners spend a majority of their time in nature, competing against themselves. 

  “If you run a good time, it’s because of you. If you don’t run a good time, it’s because of you,” said Page Sparks ‘23, a runner for Urban’s cross country team. 

Sparks has found success in both cross country and track & field, as well as soccer, a much more team oriented sport. She has won the first team all league award in track and the second team all league award in both cross country and soccer.  “[In soccer] you win as a team [and] you lose as a team… I like that joint connection.” 

Urban boys cross country team in Fall 2022. Photo Credit: Robbert Waterman.

While soccer and other team sports can take a toll on the health of athletes, the mental and physical commitment required for running is often much more significant. Many of the runners interviewed expressed a similar feeling of anxiety and dread for the expected pain of running a cross country race. 

“A cross country race is very rewarding once you are finished, but the actual race itself is challenging both mentally and physically,” said Natasha Ong ‘23, a captain of Urban’s cross country team. 

Both Sparks and Ong share the sentiment that much of the difficulty of running is induced by the mental pressure to perform well. “In running the pressure is on constantly. Your time doesn’t lie,” said Sparks. 

In an interview with Outside magazine, author Mackenzie Havey explained that anxiety in anticipation of the pain of a running race is common, and caused in part by the area of the brain called the amygdala. “When you have pre-race nerves or pre-race panic, the amygdala hijacks your brain… [and] stress hormones cascade,” said Havey.

Despite the immense pain and anxiety runners may face when preparing for a race, there are many benefits to running as well. According to WebMD, runners may experience improved sleep, cardiovascular health, mood and various other positive side effects. Running also has the ability to push athletes to exert themselves to new limits.

“What makes [cross country] a special sport is that it brings out an ability in some people that most people don’t have,” said William Cirocco, head coach of Urban’s running program. 

Additionally, many of the runners I spoke to appreciate that despite the isolation of running, there is a strong social aspect of cross country. 

“Some of my closest friends have been from the cross country team,” said Amelia Hayward ‘23, who runs cross country and is a captain of the track and field team. 

“Because we spend so much time training really hard as a team the team does get really close [with each other],” said Ong. 

Despite the large amount of effort runners put in, cross country is an under appreciated sport in the Urban community. Among the many problems, races are often not easily accessible from the Urban campus. It can also be hard to watch and appreciate the effort put into running if you are not a runner yourself. 

“It can be frustrating to be putting in just as much, maybe even more, time, energy and effort into a sport that the school doesn’t really appreciate,” said Ong.

All three athletes agreed that regardless of the mental and physical commitment of running, they were overall appreciative of their time on the cross country team.

 “I find a lot of grit and fortitude [in running],” said Sparks. Despite how difficult cross country is, both she and Ong agree that the effort is ultimately worth the commitment. “[Ong] and I have this saying: future me likes this pain.”