Yesterday, I attended--as a spectator--the Murray Invitational Cross Country Meet. My youngest son, master of summer school and of last quarter intermediate algebra and therefore qualified to compete for the honor of his school, runs on the varsity cross country team.
Having been (a) a girl and (b) a snob when I was in high school, I have exactly zero athletic credits to my name (not counting the swimming, walking, and weight lifting I have done as an adult, and may do again if I can fight the demon sloth). So I have consistently found it amazing that all of my children have played/participated in all manner of sports, and have found one of my highest callings in life: to be a fan. For years, I was a soccer fan (matching up with the enormous number of hours and days and afternoons and evenings I spent watching my kids play it), and learned a great appreciation for the beautiful game. We've had flurries of basketball, more intensive of late. Track meets. And now, cross country.
A cross country meet might seem, at first blush, like a boring event, but your first blush would be sorely mistaken. Yesterday's meet, which had kids traveling from all over Utah to run, is a perfect example. They divided the runners, who probably totaled well over a thousand, into freshperson, junior varsity, and varsity divisions, with the women and the men running separately in each division. So six races, each a 5K. Translated, this means that you don't get to watch your kid run every part of his/her race; and you have to watch a ton of other kids run, mainly because with that many kids running, you can't exactly target your arrival to coincide just with the one race.
I sat with my son's dad, chatting away about teaching English, for the better part of two hours. At some point during that period, his wife also arrived. While one race was being run, the runners for the next race would be gathering at the starting line, stretching, jockeying for position. Meanwhile, you'd hear a roar come up from the crowd across the park, which meant that runners were approaching. You'd see them, several hundred yards away, and then they'd draw nearer. The noise where you were sitting would swell. As runners passed in front of you on the home stretch, you'd cheer for everyone running by. Once the big bunches of runners had finished, you'd cheer for the stragglers, especially for the stragglers.
By the time the varsity runners had lined up for the final two races, it felt like the excitement had intensified. The women finished their race, then the men's took place. Part of the reason the last races are more exciting is that the best runners have faster times, so there's less down time between the time they disappear from view and reappear for the finish. It was damned thrilling. It turns out, for me at least, that when you're trying to keep a look out for a particular kid, you can feel almost overwhelmed with sensation: the noise, the speed with which they approach and pass you, the feeling you have of not wanting to miss any of it.
My son ran his best time yet yesterday. He finished the race at 18 minutes, 0.9 seconds, which put his mile at 5:47. We all caught up to him as he was walking with his teammate Zach, a fine runner. For a long time, my son had run third for his team, behind Zach, but yesterday finished a few seconds ahead of him. He had the card the officials had given him, citing his time and placement overall (second for his school, 95th overall out of who knows how many runners). Zach wandered over to where the rest of the team was standing around. My son was clearly feeling great. After a couple of minutes, he decided to find the team, too, and figured he'd be able to catch a ride home with Zach. We all wandered off to our separate destinations in the beautiful but fading fall light. And if you think that's an overly aestheticized ending, too bad you weren't there, because that's exactly how it was.