Reflections on the Nike Border Clash, by Larry Eder


The Nike Border Clash started seventeen years ago.

To me, it is the most important event that Nike does, anywhere in the world. Cross country is our sport at its purest, and the more mud, the more fog, the more cold, the better!

2013-11-23 16.46.34.jpgNike Border Clash, November 2013, photo by Larry Eder

The Nike Border Clash started seventeen years ago.

The event started as a wacky idea between John Truax and Josh Rowe, both, then, working at Nike. In a bit of a bragging bout between the two, there was a discussion on who were better cross country runners, athletes from Washington or athletes from Oregon?

In the seventeen years of this event, I have missed one year, and I was quite sick that year.

Why do I love this event above all others that Nike sponsors?

Well, because of what the Border Clash truly means.

Nike is the biggest company in the global world of sports footwear and apparel. While they did not invent sports marketing, they did revolutionize it. Running is still one of the largest categories at Nike, but for most of the year, Nike is like any other company, they need to make money so that the thousands who have jobs get paid, and the stockholders are happy.

The Nike Border Clash is a day where the campus of Nike in Beaverton is shown off. Forty of the top boys and girls from Washington and Oregon duke it out over four thousand plus meters to see who are the best cross country runners in the North West in high school.

Cross country is a pretty simple sport. Put a line on the ground, throw in some hills, some tough footing and let them run. The campus of Nike is perfect for a nice cross country race.

What is nice too, is that many of the families of Nike employees show up and get to enjoy an event that is closer to the heart of Nike's beginnings than most.

The late Steve Prefontaine was a fine cross country runner. In college, he was nearly unbeatable. His untimely death added to his legend, but, suffice it to say, those who knew Steve Prefontaine would tell you that he loved to race, loved to tell stories with his friends after races, and was a pretty typical young adult in the 1970s.

Recently, on a podcast, I suggested to my interviewers that cross country was like an e.e. cummings poem. The poem is called No, Thanks, and is a bit profane, but fun to read.

What do I like about the race?

Cross country is honest racing. Running hard over a challenging course, on a cold Northwest morning, the best runners of Washington and Oregon duke it out to see who is the best. The Nike goddess of victory statues that are given out are awesome.

In this year, when the leaders of the global sport have betrayed their positions and the sacred trust of the athletes, coaches and fans to defend the sport from dishonesty, events like the Nike Border Clash are even more important.

In our bastardization of the ideals of sport, the cult of personality created by a 24 hour sports world and the theme that money means superiority, cheating has become more common.

It does not mean that most athletes cheat, actually most do not cheat. But the odor from doping has caused a stench all over this sport that I have loved for forty plus years.

So, in a time where we hear new revelations nearly every day, standing around freezing, with a nice hot cup of coffee, as 80 of the best boys and girls from WA and OR duke it out is more than mildly important.

Years ago, actually about 1986, Lynn Jennings, the best women cross country runner of her generation said, after a particularly crazy cross country race, rife with mud and guck, " Become one with the mud."

Well said, Lynn.

Enjoy the 17th Nike Border Clash.

It reeks with pure, and is honest, to paraphrase e.e. cummings.

He would have been a fine cross country runner.

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