2015 NXN Diaries: The Lore of Cross Country, by Larry Eder

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XC2_2588.jpgNCAA Cross Country, November 21, 2015, photo by Kyle Terwilleger/USTFCCCA

Updated December 2, 2016. I wanted to pull a few of our strong cross country pieces out for all to read just before the NXN 2016.

I wrote this piece on cross country on my flight from Austin to Portland last night. I wanted to consider the lore of cross country as I go to see the NXN.

The lore of cross country

Cross country is one of the first experiences many runners have with the sport. Offered in the Fall in the U.S., over 550,000 boys and girls run high school cross country and 60,000 men and women run college cross country. And then, consider how many masters runners still love to run on real cross country courses.

The Crystal Springs cross country course was one of my favorite courses in high school. I also ran it as college athlete and in open races. Located in Belmont, California, it has been the site of

many fantastic races.

The Nike Border Clash, held on the Nike campus, is a unique and fun race. Just under 5000 meters, the course pits the top 40 boys and girls from Oregon and Washington in a cross country slugfest on who is the best high school cross country runners in the Pacific Northwest.

I have been at 15 of 17 Nike Border Clash events. This year, the frozen fog won out, and my plane was diverted to Seattle. Six hours in planes, not a good Sunday, I must say, especially when one misses the two races one wanted to see.

I am now flying to the NXN.

As I fly from Austin, Texas to Portland, Oregon on December 4, I am anticipating the Nike NXN on Saturday, December 5. A meet that grew out of the Border Clash, the NXN brings the best teams in the country (and top individuals) in a celebration of all that is gritty cross country.

I am of the opinion that one must finish with mud encrusted on one's uniform, shoes soggy, a scratch or two, and perhaps, a few droplets of blood smeared on ones leg after a real cross country race.

The NXN lives up to most of the those expectations. It is cold many years, and course, if not muddy, is damp at the very, very least.

Many of the top college coaches adorn the course, observing some of the finest runners in the sport racing five thousand meters over draining footing and some man made hills. The addition of several thousand fans, cheering wildly, and fine announcing, makes the NXN one of two events in the U.S. where high school cross country runners are feted on a national level.

What do I love about NXN?

After spending much of the last year preparing for the event, the best teams and some of the finest athletes are presented in a unique and stunning fashion. Watching the races develop, watching another generation of cross country and track fans, and watching the knowing glances of fans and coaches who have seen great races before, all add to the flavor.

The respect shown for the sport is also something I like.

I recently noted, in an interview via podcast, that cross country was about more than running. Coaches can figure out how to do the workouts from a book, or website pretty well. But that is little of what a coach does. Coaches help us, through the experience of running with a team, training for a group goal, challenging ourselves with life lessons.

I look back at my cross country experiences now, some forty-four years ago, with rose colored glasses. A positive patina is the starting point of all my memories.

Yet, I was last on my team for two years, and my coaches showed me respect and provided encouragement. I had no illusions on being the best. The summer after my sophomore track season, I listened to a coach, who told me "to run more." I did just that, running all summer, and coming back fit, finally making the top seven in cross country my senior year. In college, my coach carefully built my fitness up over five years, from 70 miles a week to 140 miles a week. Winning my first race during my senior year of college, after several hundred races, was amazing. I tried to savor the last mile, as I had never had that experience before, and would not have many experiences like that later.

I wish all those racing tomorrow great memories.

That will not happen. Some will be happy, some sad. Some victorious, some vanquished. But, all due respect. Cross Country, as I have said before, is as honest as an e.e. cummings poem (read my favorite, No Thanks).

Tomorrow, I will walk the course, saying hello to Coach Chris Fox, of Syracuse, who just won the NCAA cross country men's race. I was so proud of Chris and his fine team. I will look for Jeff Johnson, the man who named NIKE after the Greek goddess of victory. I will also look for Dave Frank, who had the joy of coaching his son's team to a state title in Oregon.

I will also try and say hello to Mark Parker, CEO of Nike. This is one of Mark's favorite, uncomplicated days of the year, where he gives out some awards to some fast kids, with thousands of fans around the Portland golf course that hosts NXN. His smile, genuine and relaxed, as he surveys a cool Saturday morning in the Pacific Northwest, where many of the best teams and young runners in the sport of cross country have come to play hard.

And, finally, I will squint hard, looking off to the back of the course, as a guy, who would be in his early sixties now, in a hoody that says Oregon, and gray sweat bottoms jogs off the course, into the fog, knowing that another cross country season is just about over.

I will then, look down at my shoes and smile at the mud on my boots, that will remind me, on my two flights that upcoming evening, as your athletic pilgrim heads to another race, looking for the perfect athletic experience.

That is the lore of cross country.

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