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Cross Country is worth the suffering in the end

I joined the Detroit Lakes High School Cross Country Running team earlier this summer. And why am I picking this week to write about Cross Country as opposed to any of the other half-dozen or so weeks I have been a participant of this sport? Because, you see, although our team has been experiencing 'the runs' (well, maybe I should just call them practices) for most of the summer, it wasn't until last week that the actual season began and my team started having 'meets'.

Last Monday we had our first meet. That morning, I woke up during the wee hours of the morning in an effort to be at our rendezvous before the bus transporting the DL Cross Country team left for Moorhead, where the meet took place. Despite my sincere efforts to be punctual, I showed up about 5 minutes late, grateful that my ride hadn't yet departed.

The ride to Moorhead was rather uneventful; just the usual bedlam and debauchery that all high-school bus rides seem to consist of. I noticed two predominating things as our bus arrived at its destination and I waited at the course for my race to begin. One, the field I would soon be running on was quite flat and practically destitute of shade. This should have come as no surprise to me (we are talking about Moorhead after all) but I was still a bit disconcerted by the prospect of running 5 kilometers in full sunlight . Two, the other teams participating in this meet seemed to be quite determined when it came to their sport. They performed all sorts of calisthenics and crazy warm-up routines while we, (meaning the Detroit Lakes team) although adequate in our preparation, weren't taking ourselves quite as seriously.

Finally, the boy's Junior Varsity race, my race, began. When the person running the race (well, in charge of the race, not physically 'running' it) a giant mob of people suddenly bolted en masse across the field in a fit of mayhem. As I found my way to the front of the pack, it occurred to me that I were to trip over somebody else's legs and fall I would be trampled by at least a dozen people, and if not killed altogether, changed for life. Multiple head injuries would definitely put an interesting twist on my future columns, if nothing else.

As the race progressed, however, the possibility of nearby runners stampeding me became less of an issue and it became more about surviving the intense heat and inevitable onset of fatigue -- and trying to place well in the process. I eventually had to face the consequences of starting out fast, and watch helplessly as runners who had better paced themselves than I, gained on and ultimately passed me.

Towards the very end of the race, my life situation was less than optimal. No, I will be honest with you; those final, critical minutes of race-time were the pits. My chest was throbbing, my lungs were working themselves well beyond their reasonable limit, and my legs...well, it brings back too many painful memories to discuss how my legs felt, but let it suffice to say that they were a little sore. I tried to ease the agony a bit by circulating some tunes in my head, trying to let my mind replicate how they sounded in reality. It wasn't quite the same as actually hearing the music; but you work with what you have, right? This actually helped a little, and I credit a particularly inspiring cut off U2's latest album to the sudden burst of energy that propelled me across the finish line at breakneck pace.

Those first moments after finishing my first meet were some that I will never forget. An eclectic combination of sheer exhaustion and a strong sense of accomplishment overwhelmed me as I collapsed on the 'finished' side of the finish line, careful to situate myself out of the way of fellow runners. It was during those first post-race moments that Cross Country, which I had just minutes before considered to be a God-forsaken sport, suddenly seemed to be worth the suffering and commitment that it requires. I'm already looking forward to the next meet!

(Nathan Kitzmann will be a sophomore at Detroit Lakes High School this fall.)