Cross country was my route into running.
When I run on trails in training I am reminded of the importance of this surface. I look back fondly on those multi-terrain events at high school.
I ran cross country mostly in my Physical Education classes. Unlike other children, I never complained and secretly enjoyed this exercise more than any other sport. The course often followed the perimeter of the school sports field, along a cricket pitch and around a plot of barren land, full of weeds and litter (and home to an old military pillbox).
These runs built my endurance and required consistent pacing rather than speed.
There was often long stretches where I would be running alone.
This suited me.
During those times I would imagine the race commentary. It was inspired by the Sky Sports Soccer Saturday television show, where pundits would keep viewers updated on football matches that could not be shown live. This was a technique to motivate myself to remain competitive and experience the thrill of chasing and leading other runners.
It was the form of running that made me feel most free. There were no boundaries. No distance markers. No way of telling the pace or time during the ‘race’. It emphasised the playfulness of running.
I was awarded two badges for my dedication to the discipline. I am proud to have competed for my high school in two cross country championships, even if my finishing positions were never outstanding. Although I felt the same nerves as running on the track, once I was off the start line I would enjoy the atmosphere of mass participation, sparse crowds and a challenging course, which often included hills, mud and puddles.
Cross country taught me that sport did not need rules or equipment to be enjoyed, and that following the fast starters is not the most sensible approach.
My disinterest in running such events as an adult reflects my preference to set new personal records rather than explore paths off the beaten track. For now, anyway.