By Michael Mullen
Heavy, almost impossible breathing. Burning muscles. All alone in your own mind. Most people would say that these experiences sound awful. Who would possibly want to suffer through pain like that? And who would be crazy enough to do it more than once?
That strange breed of athlete can be found running around Union’s campus almost every day. They are not boisterous, and rarely receive any recognition from anyone outside of their own teammates. They are the members of the Union Cross Country team.
These athletes run more in one day than most determined gym-goers will run in a week. They don’t have special equipment, nor do they have their names embroidered on the back of their jerseys. In fact, their uniforms can hardly be considered uniforms. But none of it matters to these unsung diehards. All they need seems to be a pair of shoes and the will to finish.
People have always been confused about why anyone would choose to compete in a sport that is often considered punishment in any other athletic endeavor. The only way to truly understand what goes through a dedicated runner’s mind is to ask them. What inspires them to run? What helps them push through the last mile? What is their main motivation?
Team captain Elizabeth Nailing ‘14 explained how she used to hate running, but then that feeling changed. “Eventually running became way more to me than good exercise. It became a passion, my meditation, an outlet for any emotion that may be out of balance at any given time in my life and a way for me to challenge my mind and body every day.”
“During a race it’s just you, the trail and the incredible burning pain you have to fight through. There’s no one else to blame for a bad race but your own mental and physical inhibitions. How can you not love that if you’re a true athlete?” Nailing continued.
Men’s team captain Max Unterhalter ‘15, had a simple rationalization. “I run because I enjoy it and love to compete. It just feels good to run fast, and then try to run faster than I ever have before.”
Women’s team captain Cara Zimmerman ‘14 described the bond that all runners have. “When you give your teammates high fives and hugs after accomplishing a race or workout you just feel so connected and powerful. Every run with the team is like that. We seriously are a family and each one of us is a critical part who brings his or her own character to the table.”
After hearing their stories and sentiments about how much running challenges the mind and body, it is no wonder this sport has existed for centuries.
Although it may be difficult to attend a race, we can all cheer on our Union Cross Country team with encouraging words around campus!