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The Toughest Sport

Posted on November 16 2010

Four words: Are you fucking serious?

#40? Really? Easier than raquetball and squash? Easier than badminton and auto racing? Easier than calf roping??

I recently got into a debate as to which sport is the hardest – ironic that ESPN decided to join in. Sure playing football isn’t the easiest thing in the world, I mean you have to put in 100% effort for about 5 seconds, and then rest for a minute. Basketball on the other hand is difficult and does deserve a lot of respect – but if you’re tired? Call a timeout. Get a substitution. What about swimming? Sure it’s difficult, trust me, I know. But can you really put 100% into swimming? Can you push your body to the absolute limit? I think not because once you hit the absolute limit in the water, there is nothing to stop you from drowning. What about baseball? Sure the pitcher has to throw a ball 100+ times in a game, I can see how that’s physically demanding. Only one problem – I’ve never seen a baseball player, besides the pitcher, sweat. And even there it’s dew drops at the most. How about #26 – team handball? …I’m not even going to waste words on this one.

There are plenty of reasons to work hard to be a football player; recognition for being “tough”, huge salaries if you make it to the pros, being the talk of the town. Sure even swimmers get tons of fame, look at Phelps. Baseball players get paid hundreds of millions of dollars for swinging a bat a couple times a game and sitting on a bench the rest of the game. Hockey? You get to pick “fights” with anyone you want and I’m sure it’s very physically demanding but how much pain can you really be in when you’re wearing 50 pounds of protective gear?

What about the big one? Boxing. Rated #1. The toughest sport to play. Sure you’re getting your punched, knocked to the ground, and destroyed both mentally and physically – but there is one fatal flaw in this reasoning; in boxing someone else is inflicting the pain on you but you can inflict pain back on them. Whatever they do, you can do to them. And when the bell rings? You get to rest. You can throw in the towel and the other person wins, you let down yourself, maybe the fans, but that’s it. In a race there is no retaliation. You can’t beat up the course, it just beats you up over and over and over and over and over again. Each hill pushes you down and kicks you in the face, but for some reason you get back up and push through it. The last mile kicks you from behind and breaks your kneecaps with a bat. The last kick feels like you’re getting stabbed in the heart repeatedly. In what other sport do you think to yourself “water-boarding would feel more comfortable than this” and actually have a valid point?

So what about Cross Country? There’s no fame in it. No money. No million dollar shoe deals. You don’t get a nice heated pool, or an indoor court. You don’t get 70,000 fans cheering for you. You don’t get timeouts. No substitutions. If you throw in the towel you don’t only disappoint yourself, but your whole team. You can get away with a slump during games in other sports. You can have a bad quarter, a bad round, a bad half. But in a race you can’t have a bad mile, or a bad two miles. If you do your race is gone. It requires 100% focus and determination for 100% of the race. Any little thing can affect a race – it can be scorching hot, or freezing cold. Pouring rain or dry as bones. Soggy and slippery or dusty and unforgiving.

People say golf is 10% physical and 90% mental – sounds tough, but Cross Country is 100% physical and 100% mental. Now that’s real pain.

Most of you are thinking “What does he know? He’s never done anything but run” – I’ve had my nose broken in soccer, I’ve had to survive a horrible swim workout, I’ve been knocked on my ass playing football (Tommy). It hurts, I know. So for those of you that don’t believe me, go lace up your running shoes. Go find a nice three mile course or better yet sign up for a race. It doesn’t matter what it is; flat, hilly, dry or wet. Just try one. Push yourself during it; don’t jog, don’t walk – run. And if your legs don’t feel like jell-o, your lungs aren’t screaming for air, and your mind isn’t consistently begging you to stop – then you haven’t run hard enough.

Find me someone who truly thinks that boxing, or football, or figure skating is more difficult than finishing a Cross Country race and you’ll have found someone scared of real pain.

So this leads to the question; why do we do it? Why run for 2 hours straight just for practice? Why run through storms and heat waves? Why get up early in the morning when you could be nice and comfortable in your bed? Why make your feet bleed, your toenails fall off, and put your legs through so much pain that jumping off the damn hill that you just ran up would feel better? Is it for the beautiful views? The medals? The camaraderie between you and your team? The satisfaction of falling down after the finish line and knowing you gave it everything you have? Is it all of these things?

Or maybe it’s because Cross Country is like life – sometimes it makes you suffer, sometimes you wonder why you keep doing it, but when everything clicks, when you are one with the trail, when your body and mind come together, and you and the run become connected – you realize what it’s all for. Cross Country makes you embrace the pain, it makes you feel alive through the pain, and in the end, when your shirt is drenched with sweat, your legs feel like rubber, you can barely talk, and every muscle in your body feels like it’s been torn to bits – you lay there, dead, knowing you gave every ounce of effort inside your being – you smile to yourself deep inside and you know why you’re going to be back in your running shoes the next day.

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