By Mike Miller
Far more often than ever before, a freshman enters his or first XC season with certain expectations from coaches and teammates. Could this be the one who fills in our gap from 4th to 5th. Could it be that diamond in the rough my opponents always seem to get? Could this group give us the depth we so badly need? Could this whole class bring us a state title three years down the line?
But anyone who has ever been a freshman knows that those expectations, however possible, are foolish to lavish upon a group of kids who are so busy worrying about the Pretty Little Liars finale and finding a TBT pic for Insty, that they either don't notice them or don't care... or much worse, crumble underneath them. This is for them... those kids joining their respective teams for the first time this week. Nervous, bewildered, excited, or apathetic, here's everything you need to know about cross country.
- Yes, cross country is a cult- Deal with it. Kids in school will judge you because you carry a water bottle, wear a watch, and sometimes need ice for your shins. But those kids are stupid, and you're not, so you win.
- Dive in- No matter why you're here, embrace the opportunity. Cut from freshman soccer? Learn to love XC, you ain't making the JV team next year either. Running to get in shape for another sport? Great, but soon you'll be playing that other sport to get in shape for cross. Mom is making you run? Uhhhh, well, she's probably right, unless you typically hate doing stuff. Whatever brought you here, just make the most of it... your attitude will make or break it.
- Be patient- Long distance running is a marathon, not a... well, you get the idea. Don't get discouraged that you can't seem to complete your runs. Your lungs and legs will slowly acclimate to the stress you're putting on them, and you'll forget how hard the first month was. Try not to walk on runs, but if you have to, force yourself to start running after 30 or 60 seconds again. You don't want to come back from a 3 mile run in 45 minutes because you walked half of it. You'll just seem lazy.
- Stay healthy- Most freshmen get hurt early on, usually shin splints. The primary reason is that they don't know how to properly recover and few coaches have time to watch them ice and do therapy work, so they trust they'll do it on their own. DO IT ON YOUR OWN!!! Take care of your shins by icing and doing theraband strengthening activities before they ever start to hurt. Avoiding a few days off could be the key to your success in the long run.
- Don't overreact- You might be a first-time athlete, so you might get a first-time injury. If your shins start to hurt, don't go to the ER. They'll send you home with a note that says you can't run or do anything for 2 weeks, and you'll feel better in 3 days. If you have an injury, tell your coach first, your trainer second, and then consult a doctor if necessary, not the other way around.
- Be a great teammate- Every team is different, so every freshman will have a different experience. The common thread, though, is that few teams accept incoming egos. Your high school teammates could not possibly care any less how great of a middle school career you had, so be humble and check your ego at the door. Likewise, if you're on the other end of the spectrum, as in you're unlikely to contribute any points, chip in with a positive attitude and be complementary of your teammates. Everybody matters, even you
- Take care of your body- This should be first, to be honest. We get it, your non-runner friends eat McDonald's and sleep five hours a night. Good for them. You can't. You're doing 2 hours of work a day, you need to eat right, stay hydrated, and sleep a minimum of eight hours every night. Make sure you are eating enough to get through your stressful days. Get up early enough to eat a protein-packed breakfast (hard-boiled eggs are a miracle food for runners), cut out fast food and sugar snacks, and drink half your body weight in ounces of water a day. Make these sacrifices and you'll have the fuel to excel.
- Make good choices- Your team is most likely one (hopefully of many in your school) filled with kids who steer clear of drinking alcohol, smoking anything, and making destructive decisions too many teenagers generally make today. Count your blessings that you have a built in excuse when offered these vices ("I can't, I run cross country"). In fact, you're more likely to be judged in a negative light if you make poor choices as a runner than if you don't, which is a refreshing way of going through high school. Don't be the freshman who parties on the team. Then you'll most likely be the sophomore who parties off the team.
- Become a student of your sport- Learn as you go about your teammates, how cross country is scored (1st place is worth 1 point, top 5 from each team score, low score wins, etc), about the all-time great runners in your school, the state, the world, and know who Steve Prefontaine was (he's typically the test case of whether you know running or not).
- Love being on YOUR team- Even if you aren't competing at some meets, go to them anyways. That's when you'll get to know the upperclassmen best. Have fun. Go to every pasta party. Hang with your teammates outside of practice. Do all of those little things your teammates do, because they've learned the hard way that, if you don't, the experience is lessened. Enjoy this, it truly is the best time of your life.