September 11, 2003

Running Dreams

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Every fall on some sunny afternoon, I think of cross country season. I remember getting out of school and running the paths behind my high school, mile after mile rolling away under my feet.

It doesn’t happen any more, though. No, I am no longer a competitor on an athletic team. I gave it a try at Cornell as a coxswain on the lightweight crew team for two years, but I couldn’t produce the dedication it took or sacrifice the amount of time that was necessary to succeed there. So instead, I chose unencumbered evenings and the freedom to do just about anything I want on the weekends.

Life without a serious sport definitely has fewer restrictions. My life and actions no longer intimately affect a team hell-bent on winning. I have more free time to watch TV, go backpacking, write for the newspaper, go skiing and take it easy than I ever did in my first two years here.

Without a sport, life is just a little more laid back. I get to enjoy the sunny afternoons with a book on the Arts Quad instead of the trails. And then, every now and again when I have time, I manage to get out and put in a few miles around campus, out past the Vet school on 366 and back down on Fall Creek Rd. towards Forest Home and North Campus. It’s a good way to get out, to get off campus and away from the academic life, without pressure.

But I miss it. I miss it as I’m sure every competitor does. I miss running at big invitationals on cool Saturday mornings and winning Tuesday afternoon dual meets. I miss sitting in a boat, screaming as loud as I can, flying down a 2000-meter course a length ahead of the nearest competitor. And it’s not simply that I miss the competition; I can always win at foosball or dominate a game of beer pong (or not), but it just doesn’t have the same feel.

When I compete in those things, it’s because they’re fun, because they’re easy. I don’t spend time practicing them, preparing for them every day. As much joy comes from the preparation as the accomplishment, I suppose. And I miss that. But at the same time, I know that a varsity sport at Cornell is not for me. I want too many things in my life; I want too much freedom. There’s other stuff I want to do, too.

I will always admire the people that can do it, though. The amount of time and prowess it takes to succeed in an NCAA sport is phenomenal. In my time on the crew, I saw athletes work harder than I knew possible, and I know that other teams do it, too. The wrestlers work 12 months a year to dominate for nine minutes on the mat, and cross country runners will put in a hundred miles a week during the summer just for 26 minutes in eight races. Those kids dedicate more of their lives, in effort and desire, than most people could ever comprehend. I wish I had the drive, or the talent, or whatever it took, to do that stuff. I had what it took to succeed (by my measure) at high school cross country, and I had a great time doing it, but while I made a decent run on the crew, I’ll always regret never winning Eastern Sprints.

One of my goals for the coming year is to take up running again, to get out there every day and put in some miles, maybe even enter a race sometime this winter or in the spring. While talking to coaches and writing about sports is fun, and I love it, writing about competition just isn’t quite the same as participating.

So while I have no illusions about joining the cross country team, I’m going to do my best to get out on the trails and make use of the afternoons this fall. And hopefully I’ll get a little more out of it than better cardiovascular fitness and a good view of Fall Creek. I want to get back in the game.

Matt James is a Sun staff writer. Long Distance Runner will appear every other Thursday this semester. Matt can be contacted at [email protected].

Archived article by Matt James