There's this idea that I've realized along the way over the last few months. First of all, cross-country, or running in general, is a sport that I feel has very little random chance. With baseball, you can make your pitches, but sometimes that guy will still get a piece of it and take it out of the park. With soccer, there are many moving parts, and so many variables that impact your play. But with running, every running takes the starting line with a very good idea of what he or she can do. If my best 5k time so far is 19:08, maybe on a good day, I can run 18:30. And maybe on a bad day, it'll be 20:00. But there's no way I'm going to run 17:45, and this is fine, as it will not be expected from me.
But that's partly what makes this idea of a cross-country team so powerful. You have 7 runners coming together, and everyone brings what they've done in their training to the starting line. And sure you run well or you run poorly, but in general, there's a very good idea of how much people can contribute. And because of this, I feel there's less random chance.
With more certainty in the outcome of the race, it makes victory or defeat all the more meaningful. Everyone takes their training to the starting line, and everyone contributes to the result.
I think the saddest thing for me, is that this is not an experience that will ever be reproduced. After college, there's no such thing as cross country. (Unless, perhaps you're one of the top runners in the world, but this classification of runner is so small, it's not applicable to this idea.) And in college, sure, maybe you can join a cross country program. But it'll never mean the same thing as it did in high school, and the reason is simply that you're no longer good.
In high school, you go to a small school, perhaps there are 250 high school students and you produce a cross country team. And if you have five runners that can run under 17 minutes, you're suddenly one of the best teams in the state. And if you have five runners that can run under 18 minutes, you're going to walk away from the state championships with a feeling of pride, that you accomplished something significant, and it's a moment that you'll remember for the rest of your life.
Now you go to college, and you try to do the same thing. Maybe you're a bit faster... let's say you ran a 5k in 18:00 in high school, and you worked hard, and now you run 16:30 in college. Unfortunately, no one cares. You can have your team of five runners all running 16:30... maybe even sub-16. And no one will care.
The high school cross country team is an amazing experience because it gives ordinary people who work hard the ability to accomplish great things. As a healthy 14 year-old male, if you work hard for your four years in high school, it's completely within reach to get your 5k time down to 17 minutes. And with that time, you will feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and in the microcosm of high school, it is an accomplishment. But once you leave the realm of high school, it takes something special to feel that same sense of achievement. It's something that special to the point where, I hate to say it even though I firmly believe this is the truth, that it doesn't matter how hard you work anymore. You can work as hard as you want, and someone will always be better than you. Except for that one person, but sadly, and I say this with confidence, that one person isn't you.
And that's okay. That's the reality of the world. The joys of being the best in the world at something, at anything, are limited to very few people.
So what's the moral of this story? I run today, to make up for what I didn't do 15 years ago. I'll never be able to feel the sense of achievement, that I worked hard, and I contributed to my teammates and friends, and that I was able to accomplish something. I'll never have that opportunity, because sadly, the standard of my world in this realm, running, is too high for me to achieve with just hard work.
The moral of the story, at least what I feel, is that in high school, there is the opportunity to do something great. And it will have a level of meaning that will be difficult to achieve ever again. So take every day that you have, and use it to build your future. Every day that you run, is one more day of training that you have over that other guy who decided not to show up.
Simply said, achieve the most you can while life's multiplier is high.