This morning on the way to work I arrived at a Stop sign where two major streets intersect at the edge of our town. The sun was directly ahead of me with beams pouring down the avenue. As my Subaru rolled to a stop, a young runner reached the corner and stopped for a moment, trying to figure out whether I was going to let him through or not. He was in the middle of a long line of slow-moving runners.
In stature he was not much taller than 5’2″. He leaned forward a moment, watching to see if I was going to pull through the stop sign. But I waited and waved him through.
More kids arrived at 15-yard intervals. I waited for them all to pass. There was a short runner with a clomping-along running style. Then came a young man with a taller, somewhat thicker build. He ran with his head cocked to the side. It didn’t look comfortable. Next came a really tiny kid wearing thick black shades and an all black outfit. He looked like he should be down in some basement playing video games.
Instead they were all out running a few miles through town. These were likely freshman kids who were out training for cross country the first time in their lives.
Getting it done
None of them looked particularly happy or unhappy. They were just “getting it done.” For many runners in the first years of competitive running, that is about all they can dream about. Getting the workout over and done. They may not place in races, move up from sophomore to varsity, or anything so glorious as even being a member of the Top 7 in their class category.
But they are runners just the same. I’ve known many such kids over the years. While I was fortunate to have enough talent and drive to run varsity cross country even as a freshman, many of my teammates at that little school in the cornfields near the town of Elburn, Illinois where I lived were just modestly talented. They ran for their own reasons.
As a really competitive kid, I couldn’t always focus on the labors of my slower teammates. I’d encourage them of course, and talk when we ran together. But truth be told, runners often have to focus all their energy on their own gig.
At some point in our lives, we’re all freshman of one kind or another. The pattern repeated itself when we all went off to college. Only the class with which I entered as freshman in cross country at Luther College had no less than seven guys that had run under 15:00 for three miles in high school. Some were All-State in Minnesota and Iowa. That caliber of freshmen shook up the hierarchy of the team right off the bat. Four of the Top Seven at Conference that year were freshmen. I was our 7th man after a highly competitive season and finished 9th at the conference meet. We placed all seven of our runners in the Top 10.
Nonetheless, being a freshman is a raw experience no matter how slow or fast you run. Either you’re learning how to run at all or you’re learning to run a lot longer and farther than you ever have before.
I well recall the first 20-miler we did at Luther College. We climbed the big hill south of Decorah and trotted into a wind toward Calmar, a town 10 miles south. I made it to the fifteen mile mark on the way back and was close to hitting the wall when the team van pulled up and invited me in. Nothing happens overnight, including the ability to run all 20 miles the first time you try it.
So the sight of those kids trundling along this morning brought back all sorts of memories. I called out to the last one in line, “Good job! Keep rolling!” He didn’t acknowledge my words. More likely his mind was immersed in the task of keeping up. And who talks to the last kid in line anyway?
Well, these days, I do. And actually, I always have. Calling out the car window to encourage a freshman runner on their summer training run is something we all should do.