It was sunny at home, but out of habit I checked the radar before leaving for the regional cross country meet. It was 36 degrees in Boardman with rain / snow. I knew it would be a muddy mess. I grabbed my Gore-Tex hiking boots, swishy nylon pants, rain jacket and gloves. And a change of clothes.
Those spectators who naively showed up in jeans and tennis shoes looked at me with envy. Their shoes would likely be unwearable afterward.
All the rain we’ve had has meant a tough season for area cross country runners. You either got good at running in the mud, or you suffered. Well, you suffered either way, but surely winning made it better.
In the (now 5) years of seeing races on the Boardman course, I’ve heard a lot of people complain about it. It’s always wet. But I like it because with a little bit of running myself it’s possible to see the runners at 9 different points during the race. At the start, standing on a hill about 500m from the line, I can barely get the long line of runners in the camera. When the gun fires the long line gradually narrows as the faster runners move to the front. The pack comes toward you like a wave, up and over the first rise. It looks like one giant organism rather than 120 or so individuals.
It’s an inspiring scene that always gives me goosebumps:
More than a few runners fell during the race. And some normally fast runners had disappointing results. But as they say, it’s the same course for everyone. Those who rose to the top seemed unaware of the bad conditions. They appeared to be running over the mud while others were slogging through it.
You’ll notice that I’ve not said anything about being at this race under different circumstances — without the emotional investment of having a daughter there running. That is because I did not want to spend half of my Saturday in an exercise in nostalgia and melancholy. I was there to enjoy the experience of the big meet and cheer for her former teammates.
Which is how it worked out. At the end of the race I was pretty well covered with mud too. I didn’t think about it at the time, but on the way home I realized there was a fitting end to the day: in the interest of avoiding turnpike tolls, I had left the course through a different exit than before, and was taking a different route home.