So, it’s your first day of cross country practice this fall. In an effort to paint with the broadest brush in my arsenal of brushes, it probably looks something like this:
6:00 AM – Alarm goes off. Not that it needed to – your roommate Skylar (8th place in Wyoming’s state championship 3,200-meter in 10:13, 6th place in the mile [4:46]) has been rather loudly lacing and re-lacing his flats for the past hour.
6:01 AM – “Good morning, Skylar,” you groan, already sick of this little turd. You think he will be cut after the first week but, then again, the weirdos are usually the best at being above average at cross country.
“Here,” Skylar shoves a water bottle at you, “drink this.” It appears to be a mixture of half-water, half-Gatorade.
“This just looks like half-water, half-gatorade.”
“It is! I read in Runner’s World it’s what Galen drank every single day in high school.”
6:02 AM – You politely take the bottle of piss-water and hide it in your bunk. It will stay there, untouched, for the next 3 months until you experience your first hangover and, as if you were a wild mongoose, tear around your bed for any liquids to possibly cure your ailment.
6:05 AM – You get out of bed and waddle to the hall bathroom. The nice thing about getting up this early for practice everyday is that there will never be anyone else in the bathroom at that time. Although on the off-occasion there is another person in there, be wary.
6:15 AM – When you enter the room, Skylar has on all the compression. He is covered in some version of a tight, black material from toe to neck. He looks like a bad superhero. He has toe spacers on and is foam rolling his back.
As he flips through Once a Runner, he asks, “How much mileage did you run over the summer? I didn’t count miles. I counted minutes. I ran over 10,000 minutes this summer. Do you know how much that equates to? I wonder what the workout is today. I hope it’s something fast. I once split a 50-second lap. Swear.”
6:20 AM – You slip on some split-shorts and realize you left your flats at home in Michigan. You do not dare ask Skylar if he has a pair you can borrow.
6:22 AM – You and Skylar leave the dorm and walk over to meet the team at the locker room.
6:23 AM – “Where are your flats?” asks Skylar.
6:30 AM – The locker room already smells bed. An upperclassmen finishes a shower and walks around naked to show his learned comfort with his body, his teammates and the MRSA-infested carpet. It is a version of peacocking you were unaware existed until this morning.
6:31 AM – As the returners all mingle and talk about their various roles as counselors at summer running camps, the other freshman stare blankly around the room. Except for Skylar. Skylar is talking to one of the older guys about how he switched his form and has now improved his cadence by “almost 12 percent!”
6:35 AM – Coach walks in. He addresses the locker room of 25 with a few banal platitudes and then sets off in explaining the workout. 10 cruise miles for the upperclassmen, six to eight for everyone else. You don’t know what a cruise mile is.
6:40 AM – Everyone loads into the vans to head to the park. A Junior sits shotgun and plays music you’ve never heard before. Your world is expanding; your mind is opening. The vans take off in a caravan.
You look out the rear window. Skylar is sprinting toward the vans, obviously left behind.
You say nothing.
6:59 AM – You eat your Clif Bar.
7:00 AM – Cross country practice begins.
7:30 AM – Following the longest warm up jog of your life, you follow the lead of nearly everyone else on the team and do some 50-meter all-out sprints. These seemingly called strides.
7:35 AM – Coach is calling out names and assigning workout groups. Your name isn’t called. Which is fine, you think. You don’t really want to do this anyways.
“You!” Coach points directly at your face. “You are going to be in the final group. You’ll be running 5:30s.”
This is wildly more ambitious than anything you’ve ever done in your life. You nod in agreement.
7:40 AM – It’s you, Tevin, Dusty and Preston. They are all seniors who are just pretty bad, but coach keeps around for their GPAs.
7:45:31 AM – Congratulations. You did it. Your first rep of college cross country. It wasn’t even that bad! You’ve begun laying down the foundation to a successful career of running.
7:51:30 AM – The Clif Bar is making it’s way up from your stomach after your second rep. This will not be the first time or the last time that you mistime a meal. You are a freshman idiot and you vomit.
8:30 AM – You are finished with the workout. You managed all six reps and only one vomitus. You are a proud boy, and you should be.
9:00 AM – Arrive back on campus. The girl’s cross country team walks by and, like a flock of swifts, the entire boy’s team swerves out of their way with no interaction.
This is your life for the next four to five years with subtle nuances here and there. For the most part, though, it will be a foul-smelling experience with plenty of gained wisdom and knowledge to be imparted the rest of your days.