“I saw you out running the other day” is the standard greeting I get from this guy I often pass in the parking lot on the way to my monthly Weight Watchers weigh-in. But he invariably sees me from his truck window, because he told me once that running cross country in high school ruined running for him forever.
In a post last year called “Running in an Alternate Universe,” I found myself wondering how my life might have been different if I’d followed through on joining the cross country team as a freshman instead of bowing to inertia and sticking with volleyball.
Might I have avoided a downward slide into a sedentary adulthood that eventually led to obesity? On the other hand, would I enjoy running as much as I do now, knowing what a difference it’s made in my life?
I’ve been revisiting this question lately as Ben finishes up his freshman season on the high school cross country team. I love to see him run, though as a typical “helicopter parent” it drives me nuts that he still hasn’t figured out how to really push himself. (This is something he struggles with anyway, but the situation is magnified because with only eight guys and seven varsity slots he’s often had to run jayvee races without any teammates to help push the pace.)
I’m glad he’s enjoyed being on the team, and I feel like he’s gotten a lot out of the experience. But if he works hard enough to get good at it, will the pressure eventually ruin running for him, too?
And if he doesn’t, will he feel like a failure? Enough so to ruin it for him from the opposite direction?
I don’t know enough ex-cross country types to come up with an answer to that. It seems like if someone was involved enough in cross country for me to be aware of it, they were pretty good back in the day, which tends to manifest itself in enthusiasm for the sport.
The only person I know who really hated cross country was the guy I see at Weight Watchers, and I don’t know what, if anything, he does for exercise these days. (He doesn’t seem to be making much progress over the last couple of years, though he deserves credit for not giving up.)
I’d be curious to hear from others with thoughts on this topic. And if you’re interested, stay tuned: Tomorrow’s interview is with an NIPR radio host who overcame an eating disorder linked to her days as a cross country runner.