Cross Country: More Than Just a Race

Cross Country: More Than Just a Race

by Avani Papadopoulos

Running isn’t just great aerobic exercise; it also helps clear the mind and relieve stress. Chemicals called endorphins are released that make you feel good naturally. Runner’s high, a longer-lasting sensation, can also be an after-effect.

Running is a form of bilateral movement (a back and forth movement), which actually helps you process things and feel better emotionally. So, if you’re angry or sad, chances are you’ll feel better after you’ve gone on a run.

For both runners and coaches, it’s proven to be helpful in more ways than one. Jada Swearingen, a senior on the cross-country team, says that along with keeping her in shape, running brings her peace.

Jamie MacDougall, the head coach of the cross-country team at University, says, “I am much more myself when I have the chance to run. It’s one of the few things, running and yoga, are the two things that help me get out of my head. I often can get trapped inside my own head and worry about things, and maybe things that don’t even deserve to be worried about. When I get outside and run, especially cross-country on trails, I feel like that’s the one thing that helps me put all of that stuff out of my mind.”

Ashley Crockett-Lohr, the assistant coach of the team who is going into her eighth season, says that the best part of coaching the sport is the team members. Unlike years before, the team is filled with runners who are at all different levels, so there isn’t much of a gap that separates all of them from one another.

When she first started coaching back in 2012 she fell in love with the sport even more so than she had before. Some things Ashley and Jamie do to help the team bond is pack running. Pack running is where people on the team are intended to run with at least one other person, so they might not be going all out with 100% effort since that isn’t the point of the practice. Another thing they do is incorporate games, like a version of tag, into practice.

Along with being the head coach for cross-country, Jamie is a language arts teacher for freshmen and transferred this year from Sycamore School. She likes the sense of community at University as well as the openness of the campus and having community meetings every day.

Jamie says what she loves about running is that every person sees growth in the sport and there are so many beautiful environments to run in. She says, “I am always in awe of how hard people are able to push themselves and how people can always do so much more than they think they can.”

Both Ashley and Jamie started running in a team in middle school. Jamie actually first started running when she was seven and loved how she learned so much about herself as well as the connections she made with others through running. She is proud that the team is not afraid to take chances and is happy with the positive team culture. Ashley and Jamie agree that although running is an individual sport, it is extremely helpful to have the team support because every individual win is a team win.

One of the race highlights of this season was the boys winning the Landes invitational. Noah Laramore, Lucca Conti, Isaiah Smith, Thomas Price, and Tommy Kaplan were the first five boys to cross the finish line for University in the Landes invitational, and Ashley claims that if either Thomas or Tommy had been passed by one person in that race at the very end “we would not have won that meet, which is super cool because every place counts, every point counts, and those two really did what they needed to do to secure the win.”

Seniors Noah Laramore, Jada Swearingen, Ella Eskenazi, and Isabella Garino-Heisey have helped bring up the team with their positive attitudes as well. When asked about the seniors on the team, Jamie said, “I think that the senior leadership this year has been really strong. They get things going at the beginning of practice and it’s very cool, their pep-talks, impressive.”

Ashley agrees with the statement, also adding that even the freshmen (Sammy Cooper, Chloe Kaplan, Alfonzo Gallanosa, Ben Pollack-Milgate, Isaiah Smith, and Foster Wilson) have been “supportive, open and hardworking.”

Noah broke the school record in the Landes invitational with a 16:21, which was a huge accomplishment not only for him, but for the whole team. The team also won the Sheridan invitational, which was only their second meet. In addition, many of the runners have achieved their career PRs this year. Runners Noah Laramore, Lucca Conti, Thomas Price, Tommy Kaplan, Ella Eskenazi, Jada Swearingen, and Zoe Napier have all beaten their times from last season according to Ashley.

Although running is an extremely physically challenging sport, it is just as mentally challenging, if not more. Junior Ian Salmon says, “Running is an art form, there’s nothing more entertaining than watching a tasty race. It’s a sport of pain tolerance.”

Ian, along with junior Josiah Hughes, is a transfer student and says that it’s nice that he can be himself in school. He likes that the team is close like a family, and that there isn’t any judgement in how good you are, they’re all rooting for each other. Ian has never run cross-country before, yet he still won his first ever race for University at Southwestern High School against 33 other schools, running a solid 16:49. Unfortunately, Ian injured himself after that race, but still has hopes of dropping some fast times for the mile (1600m) in track and field.

Jolin Xu, also a junior, says that she likes cross-country because it’s community-based rather than individualistic like track and field. She said that she started running in middle school and continued it at University, since her host dad, Mr. Lawrence, was the previous cross-country and track and field coach.

From last season, she remembers her teammates would tell her that she was always smiling throughout the course of the race, and that it was really impressive to see somebody able to smile through the pain. When asked what running with the team means to her, Jolin responded saying, “Every member just loves each other and it’s a really nice place to be. Running also creates a break between schoolwork, like after a day of intensive studying with more work at home, running can blank you out from studying, which is a really relaxing time for me. It’s physically not relaxing, but mentally, yes.” She says that she will prepare for next year by running consistently even after the cross-country season is over.

Jada, now a senior, says that her love for running began when she played a game of tag with her friends in middle school. After one of the girls told her that she was fast and should run cross-country, Jada took it up and began her career in running. She believes that running in a team is beneficial because you find the strength to get faster in unity. She also says that you aren’t afraid of challenging yourself more when you have the team by your side.

In her final year, Jada is beginning to learn and accept the meaning of working smarter and not harder, especially when it comes to succeeding in her goals. To grasp this idea it’s important for her to regard the toll it takes on her when she doesn’t do as well as she hoped she would. Jada has had to understand that sometimes she needs to take a step back instead of trying to fix all her mistakes too fast and too soon, and that she should just “trust the path intended.”

She used to push herself harder, running six miles on the weekends and using online videos to help herself train harder and improve faster, which she described as a “constant physical struggle.” Ultimately, she learned that patience is the key to getting faster, and she has certainly proved that by earning a speedy 21:29, her fastest time this year and in her entire running career so far.

One of the things the team does before school starts is going to the Indiana Dunes to get to know each other a little better. Running at the beach on the dunes trip was one of Jada’s favorite highlights. She says that running is so much more than just exercise, it’s being able to take in your surroundings and listen to the sounds of nature that you don’t get in any other experience. She says that part of the reason going on the trip is so important is to reinforce those things.

Jamie also thought that the dunes trip was a significant season highlight, especially playing mafia with the team along with watching them cheer each other on at races when they’re not running. Jamie said she even cried when Charlotte Kumler worked hopscotch into a race. This shows that the team isn’t just out there racing to compete, but they actually want to enjoy the time and have fun.

For some runners, cross-country isn’t their primary sport. Take Thomas for example, he uses it to his advantage, saying that it’s a great way for him to get into shape for baseball season. He says that one of the things he enjoys about being on the team, however, is stretching together before practices and races. Either way, running is beneficial to anybody who’s willing to try it, and with the team’s determination, it’s no wonder they’re having such a great season.

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