Thoughts During a Cross-country Race

Toeing the line at a cross-country race can be exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. Sometimes I think, what is there even to be nervous about? It’s just 23 minutes of running. It is more than that though. It’s quality time with you, your thoughts, and the pain.

When I watch other people race, I always wonder what they are thinking as they run by. It’s  hard to tell because everyone is wearing an expression of pain. There is a quote that goes, “Running is a mental sport…and we’re all insane!” You have to be mentally tough to finish a race and do more than your best. So, if you are trying to be mentally tough, what exactly are the thoughts going through your head?

After the gun goes off, I usually think “GO!” Then I am off, and there are people everywhere and it starts to feel claustrophobic. Everybody is sprinting to get ahead, and I try to remember to slow down once the people thin out to save energy.

In the beginning, I feel amazing and like I can conquer the world. But too soon, I start feeling the burn in my calves and my breathing starts to heave. At that point, I have to instruct myself to forget about the pain and refrain from wondering how much distance I have left to run.

The most annoying thing is when the course is multiple loops of the same route. “It makes it feel so much longer,” said runner Maddie Mompho ‘20. My thought process during those races sounds something like “I’ve passed this exact place like three times, how many more??!”

Something else that I scream at myself is “DON’T TRIP.” At times, I can be very clumsy, and that is something I want to avoid. At the last meet, I managed to spill red Gatorade all over myself and my white jersey.

Runner Justine Walker ’20 said, “I always get high school musical stuck in my head.” You cannot run with music so it gets played on repeat in your head. The same verse of a song will play over and over in my head until I get annoyed and I try to think about something else.

While I am racing, I always listen to the people cheering us on. Encouragement always boosts me and keeps me going. What is’s ironic is that at almost every single meet, there is another girl with the same name as me running nearby. Consequently, I always hear strangers saying, “Keep it up, Sarah!” This fires me off on a thought process of, “Use this as encouragement for yourself, because it is your name.” But then I remember that they are cheering on someone else and it messes with my head, so I try to ignore them.

A challenging part of a race is long stretches where nobody is there on the sidelines cheering you on. I have to repeat a mantra over and over again in my head, and I will time it with my breaths. In. “Go.” Out. “Faster.” I have to convince myself to speed up, or I will just slow down.

Other times, I inexplicably find myself trying to do math while running. It is impossible though, and I can never solve anything. An example would be “How many miles is 1200 meters?” Or “Does ‘1600 meters to go’ mean I’m halfway there?” I literally cannot do math while running, can anyone really though?

At the last meet, one of our assistant coaches, Mr. Lancaster, got a spot by the course where we ran directly at him then turned right. As soon as I spotted him, I immediately tried to relax my face, because a) he was holding his camera, and b) I knew I was making the worst grimace ever. It did n’t really work out. I still looked like I was dying.

The thoughts about how bad I look show up when I run by the point where everyone goes to cheer. It is disconcerting because they will bunch up on either side of the course and there will just be a column of cheering people then abruptly, nobody. I use the crowd as a motivation to go faster to get past them because they yell pretty loud, and I guess I want to look fast.

Food. A great motivation for a race. Just think about all the donuts and watermelon you can eat afterward, and you will run the fastest. Once, I was running and I noticed someone eating a banana. It reminded me of the existence of food and lifted my spirits so much.

“I’m actually passing people?” is a thought that runs through my head. But then when people pass me, it’s discouraging. There are also those scary times where you can hear footsteps thudding closer and closer, and a random coach saying something like, “Pass this next girl! You’re so close!”

I tell myself to use them as motivation to catch up, and I cheer them on in my head. It makes you feel better to cheer other people on because it is like, we are in this together. When you can race with your own teammates, it is the best support. I usually don’t have enough energy to say anything so I will attempt to give a thumbs up motion, then spend the next few seconds thinking about how weird my thumbs up probably was.

When I happen to look at the people cheering me on, I try to decide whether or not to flash a smile. Is it worth it? I will just look like I am dying even more because my expression will in no way resemble a smile.

What I realized at the last meet is that the race is less painful than the cool down. So next time, I am I’m going to tell myself that. Think positive!

And eventually, you will finally come to the point in a race where it is just 200 meters left, or you spot the finish. This part is the worst part of the race physically because you push so hard to go the fastest you can. “Keep moving your arms!” I yell at myself. There are’s so many people on either side, and you are just trying not to think at all anymore and get to the end as quickly as possible. Sometimes there is’s a moment where I think I might trip right before the finish. But then you pass the red gate thing and you’re still dying but it is all over, and look! There’s water.


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