On the first day of cross country practice one runner said to another, “that shirt is way too small! You look weird.” I stepped right in with, “that’s what is so great about cross country: weirdos belong!” And the ‘weird-o’ with the small shirt says, “I am SO good at being weird. This is going to be great.”
And basically it was.
Two days a week we met and run about 3 miles. On Mondays, I had them run hill repeats or speed drills and on Wednesdays we ran ‘distance’. I struggled a little the first two weeks trying to figure out how to keep the groups of runners vaguely together. Grade school cross country is a little different from high school teams in that I wasn’t sure I should just let the kids run routes basically on their own. The majority of the runners were 9 years old! But fortunately we live in a great corner of south Minneapolis with quick access to parks, Minnehaha Creek and Lake Nokomis, so with a little creativity I was able to keep them moving and interested.
The kids were in grades 4 – 8 and mostly all just wanted to run. A few had to be coaxed into running and would have preferred it if I had just led them to Dairy Queen to eat ice cream. One day my son walked out of the locker room after practice with a super long face. He admitted that a few boys thought I was ‘mean’ because we ran instead of walked around the neighborhood. I felt bad for my kid but honestly, I took it as a good sign.
All in all, I am so glad that I risked making our busy lives even busier by agreeing to coach. There were only 3 girls on the 11 person team and I was able to run every practice with them. I will never take more girl time for granted! And it has led to my son’s interest in running 5k races with me. With the way he is running, I probably only have 2-3 more years of being able to keep pace with him!
And I definitely got more out of the meets than anyone because I just love watching kids put so much effort into their goals. Our team was a part of a small ‘league’ of non-public schools and after cheering on the runners at our weekly meets over the short 7-week season, I became pretty attached to them.
The other great development for me was that during the season I learned how to run ‘just for fun’ and to routinely back off my pace. If I wanted the kids to be encouraged and not completely hate running I figured the pace had better be friendly! To my own detriment I sometimes run in that dreaded not-fast-but-not-slow zone that just breaks me down. It was great to learn how to run relaxed and not hurriedly too.
I’m already looking forward to next season!