I had a good weekend of running, and I hit 73 miles for the week. But tonight I'm blogging about something else.
We went out to see the BNL (my old high school) Stars, both boys and girls, run their first home cross country meet. Kathy is the girls' coach (and she is an amazing coach...I wish more kids could have one like her), so I especially wanted to go.
Tim, Amelia, Rowan, and I hurried and got over there by 5:00. Only to find out that they'd changed the start time to 5:30. But that gave us a chance to walk around the course. This was Amelia's first cross country meet, and the first time I'd been to a BNL meet since I used to be DRAGGED there by my mother to watch my brother, Wes, compete. He always won...that's all I remember.
We picked our spectating spots, and saw a few familiar faces--Kathy, Rand, Mike, Jimmy, and even little KJ! Tim had Rowan in the backpack (a backpack made for carrying babies...he was not stuffed in a backpack). It was very warm out, particularly for Tim and Rowan, who were right up against each other.
Finally, the girls took off. We watched the start, then darted over to around the half mile mark. This is where runners encounter a couple of hills. They aren't huge, but the footing is not good and it's just enough to hurt you when you're tired. It's a double loop course, so they'd be seeing these hills a second time.
One girl was WAY out in front at the start, and I had told Amelia, who had exclaimed to me that "That girl's gonna win!," that the person in front at the beginning is rarely the person in front at the end. Well, at the half mile mark, she was even more ahead. Amelia said "See?!" I told her there was still a lot of running to do. But this girl looked strong. I predicted right then that she'd sneak in under 20 minutes. We cheered on the rest of the girls. The BNL girls looked very good the first lap. I was surprised how far up a few of them were. They went out a bit fast, but weren't too spread out. I could definitely tell I was at a high school cross country meet. Coaches and parents yelling: "Get up there!" "Dig!" "You better get that one in yellow!" I loved it.
Then it happened. I've been to a lot of cross country meets (as a teenager), and I never noticed this happening before. I'm sure it did, but I was not aware of it. Once the big pack passed, you started seeing the stragglers. The kids with glasses. The kids with funny strides. The fat ones. The ones with clunky, non-name brand shoes. You know, the slow kids. I looked around...everyone but Amelia and I had left. They had all gone to watch the faster kids.
Amelia and I cheered for each of them. Clapping and whooping and telling each of them to keep racing. Amelia looked up and said "Where did everybody go? There are still runners." I explained that some people don't stay to watch the slower runners. "But where are their moms?" Their moms weren't there. Nor their dads. Nor their coaches. Nor anyone. Coaches who had been taking splits near us LEFT before all of their runners went by...they did not take the splits of the slower runners (BTW...this did not happen with either of the BNL coaches). Had it not been for me and Amelia, these last few girls would have been running in absolute silence, save the crickets.
It really, really bothered me. When the faster girls came around the loop a second time, spectators there cheered for them but NOT for a slower runner that was being lapped. Now, don't get me wrong--I am not one of those people who thinks everyone ought to get a trophy. Only the winners should get a trophy. But good grief...I think all these kids should at least get some support. No wonder people don't continue running. When they did run, nobody cared.
Amelia and I saw the first finisher (who was, ultimately, the girl who was ahead the whole time...she ran 19:35) and then promptly darted back on the course to cheer for the slower runners. We saw some of the main pack, and at that point coaches were still about recording splits and yelling encouragement. Soon, though, they again left. It was me, Amelia, and the crickets. There were three or four girls left on the course. They had no one there for them. Not a coach, not a relative, not a team manager. Can you imagine? NO ONE. This is a team sport. And slower runners are part of that team. So are girls without nice shoes. And fat girls, too. If they're on the team, they need to be acknowledged.
Amelia yelled her heart out at them, telling them how awesome they looked and to use the downhill to pick up speed. We jumped up and down. A couple of them smiled. Now, you ought not be smiling in a 5K race. Not if you're racing. But at least they noticed us.
Next, it was time for the boy's race. I wondered if the same thing would happen. It did. The fast boys went by, and I began to see boys in glasses. Boys with chubby cheeks. And as I did, I AGAIN found myself alone with Tim and Amelia. I counted--11 runners went by us on the course and we were the only ones to see them. Don't their coaches WANT to know where ALL the runners are? They were so caught up in getting splits for the fast guys that they didn't even consider the slower kids, the ones who likely need the most encouragement.
I kept the cheering section going. I cheered for every last one of them, including the curly-headed kid at the end who tripped and fell. I then moved to where I could see the finish but still cheer for the stragglers. There were lots of people here. But you know what? When the slower boys went by, they acted like they didn't even notice them. Their efforts were completely unappreciated. Except for by, of course, me. I cheered like a banshee.
The next thing I knew, these people were picking up their lawn chairs and walking IN THE MIDDLE OF THE COURSE. There was the last-place runner coming up and they were completely oblivious. They did not have the decency to even look at the course so as to yield oncoming runners. "RUNNER UP!" I shouted. They looked at me like I was nuts. "GET OUT OF THE WAY!" They understood that one.
While everyone was packing up, this kid had over a mile to go. He was fat. But he was running. Hard. He wasn't faking it. He wasn't walking. It gave me the perfect opportunity to explain to Amelia that distance running is, for most of us, competing with ourselves. He had no one to race, but yet he kept racing. I walked to the other side of the course to give him a final boost, when I saw another kid, from another team, bent over vomiting profusely. He stopped, then stumbled, then vomited again. I went down the hill and said "Do you need help?" He vomited again. He told me he was dizzy and said he didn't think he could run anymore but that he'd just walk. His coach, of course, was nowhere to be seen. His coach had no idea where this kid was, or that he was in the need of help. It was just me and that kid down there.
The runner previously in last place (now moved up by the vomiting boy) ran by and I cheered him on, and then walked back to the other boy who was still stumbling around. He was over a mile from the finish. When I got up to the finish area, the athletic director was announcing when awards would be given. Teams were cooling down together. Music was playing.
And two runners remained on the course. One was running his own race, dodging completely oblivious and idiotic people who kept darting into his path with their stupid lawn chairs. The other was ill on the other side of the course....and no one had yet even realized he wasn't in yet. Hm. That's nice. That's great. Be fast, or we don't give a shit about you. That's the way to turn kids into great athletes...nay, great people.
Running is not like basketball or baseball. Not that those sports aren't competitive--they are--but there is no hiding in distance running. Maybe for a few minutes, deep in the woods, but these kids are on display for all to see. If you're fast, people notice. If you're not fast, though people ignore you, everyone knows it. This sport is already extraordinarily unforgiving...I do not see why people have to make it far worse by rubbing the salt in the wound of a kid who may not be as talented or well-off as another.
I don't know where these kids' parents were. But I do know where their coaches were. They were taking down the splits of the top runners. They did not bother to record the splits of non-scoring athletes. How can these kids possibly be motivated to improve if no one even monitors their progress? It's absolutely inexcusable. I wish they could all have a coach like Kathy.
In the end, the BNL girls won (yay!) and I think the boys did, too (not sure on that). They have two great teams this year. As I was walking up the hill to leave, one of the fat, awkward boys came up to me and thanked me for yelling for him when no one else was there. "It really was helpful," he said. If only people would realize how much power they have to help another person.