Weekend essay: The pains of August

Weekend essay: The pains of August

High school cross-country runners are everywhere this time of the year.

You see them – harriers, they once were called — in the early morning hours, shaking off the previous day’s aches and, sometimes, agonies.

You see them in the afternoon heat; they know that meet conditions won’t always be morning-pristine.

Others prefer the cooling night for some good speed work.

They’re working hard to learn how to not be fooled by “rabbits” and come to understand their inner pace, if not the concomitant exhilaration and inner peace of having achieved the nirvana of a “second wind” in the middle of their second mile.

The truly devoted have been hitting the pavement thrice daily and no matter the weather.

Their goal is to log the miles — hundreds of miles, maybe even 1,000 miles — over the summer. And they’ll hit the hills — hard — and “stride out” for 50 or so yards at the top.

They understand how the burning in their lungs and the rubber in their legs now can make them winners later. The pain of August leads to the payoff of October and November when the championship meets roll around.

Having once long ago been one myself, I can attest that cross-country runners are a dichotomous and curious lot. There’s the communal aspect of the team and learning the strategies necessary to win. (The lowest score prevails, do remember.) But cross-country, by its very nature, is one of sport’s most solitary endeavors.

And by that same nature, it just might be one of sport’s greatest teachers of discipline — a discipline that will serve these young runners well long after they’ve retired their flats and spikes.

As these runners prepare to take their first “mark” of the season, they’ll be taking another step on their long journey to becoming good human beings.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).