Archive for Thursday, September 22, 2005

Opinion: My turn to run

September 22, 2005

Last Wednesday, I ran my first-ever cross country race.

OK, well I didn't exactly run the entire 5K, but I did run.

And, um, I guess I didn't technically run on the well-groomed paths that cut the course and wind their way through Wyandotte County Park, but some might say my path was more treacherous.

Oh, nevermind.

But I was there. And what I saw was amazing.

I've been "covering" cross country for about five years now, but because of the nature of the sport and the fact that it usually takes place quite a ways from home, I haven't attended too many meets.

Wednesday, I showed up from start to finish for both varsity races at this year's Bonner Springs Invitational.

Cross country --t least on this day --s actually one heck of a spectator sport. The starting line, a 40-yard wide area jammed with 80+ runners that funnels down to the width of a high school hallway about 80 yards in, is lined with loud and boisterous supporters. The minute the gun sounds, the entire pack of runners takes off. And so do the fans.

Coaches and parents alike cut corners, sprint short distances and bust their butts to get to the next rallying point, where they can spend exactly 2.7 seconds with the runners they're chasing.

After that lengthy visit, it's off to the next spot.

I'm not even going to pretend that running to cut off these distance runners is harder than running the race itself, but I did get a pretty decent workout.

That all lasts for about 18-25 minutes, but as Bonner Springs' Alex Perica said, "It's the longest 18 minutes of your life."

The race itself is more than a leisurely stroll through the park. It's a high-intensity, strategic chess match that has runners sizing each other up the entire time.

"I can smell 'em when they get close," BSHS junior Dylan Tuckel said. "I really can."

Because the separate packs of runners are side-by-side for most of that 20 minutes, Tuckel and other runners like him spend a good portion of the day pushed by odor.

More amazing than the dynamics of the race is the support shown by everyone there.

Coaches yell for the opposing teams as loudly as they yell for their own. Parents do the same.

Some offer encouragement. Some tell times. Others update the standings and still more just yell.

Take the Basehor-Linwood boys team, for instance. The Bobcats finished Wednesday's race in seventh place, but when their top runners came toward the finish line --tarting with 34th place and extending through 52nd -- they had by far the loudest group of supporters.

BLHS's Richard Arcery finished 52nd and you would've thought he won the thing.

That is until Blue Valley's Greg Allen came around about three minutes later.

Gone from the vision of his supporters for what seemed like an eternity, Allen finally crept into view about 400 yards from the finish line.

That's when the Blue Valley girls went nuts. They were quickly joined by the remaining fans and coaches who lined the final stretch. It was neat to see, and if it warmed my heart I can't imagine how Allen felt.

It might be forgotten in the headlines and left out of the highlights, but cross country is a great sport. I know that after what I saw on Wednesday, and I plan on finishing my race next time just to hear the cheers.

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