I played football my first year of high school. I was 5’8″, 125 pounds. I had one catch for seven yards, an interception, and a permanent pit of fear in my stomach I’d receive the kick off and get bent into a pretzel during the return. The daily bullying during practice from two team members didn’t improve my outlook. I soon realized football wasn’t my calling.

During the summer between my first year and sophomore year, I told my father I wanted to play golf. He said, “You’re running cross country.” His house, his rules. I joined the cross country team.

My first day of cross country practice, I wore my brand new Nikes. We did what we reverently referred to as a Zulu run. We ran a mile and a half to the Indian Boundary Forest Preserve. Then we were supposed to run three miles through the Forest Preserve and then two miles back to school. When we arrived, we saw heavy thunderstorms caused the North Branch of the Chicago River to overflow its banks. Undaunted, we walked the mile or so in thigh high water through the Forest Preserve and run back to school. I was hooked.

I ran cross country for the remaining three years of high school and all four years of college. I have several great memories from running cross country – winning conference individually my junior year of high school, finishing eighth as a team my sophomore year in high school, finishing seventh in the state my senior year of high school. And while I spent most of my collegiate running career addressing injuries, it still deeply affected my life.

To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.

Here’s how cross country changed my life:

Goal setting

Each year, we set goals to kick off the year, both individual and team. That’s the beauty of cross country – you’re competing individually and as a team. And you spend each week training to achieve your goals.

Mental toughness

Your mind wants to protect you. It will tell you to slow down or stop. There’s no shortage of stop signs – muscle cramps, muscle soreness, stress fractures, side stitches, shin splints, etc. Over time, you learn to push your body and understand and surpass its perceived limits.

Training

There’s only one way to progress. Run farther. Run faster. Run farther faster. Each day, practice is different and designed to increase your ability to run farther faster – base miles (building your mileage), tempo runs (steady pace), fartleks (speed up and slow down), intervals (speed work). Take a day off training and you suffer the next day.

Perseverance

My junior year of high school, I finished 15th in the sectional meet. I missed running in the state meet by one place. My junior year of college, I had a stress fracture in my left femur. My senior year of college I had plantar fasciitis. Each time you experience a setback or sustain an injury, you have to start back and square one again. And I did.

Lifestyle

I like being in shape. After I graduated college, I packed on a bunch of weight because I was eating the same and not running. Two years ago, I started working out religiously again because I wanted to get back into shape. When I’m stressed, I go for a walk. I try to walk at least six times a week. I see the benefit. I feel the benefit.

The people

Perhaps the greatest benefit of running cross country was the people I met along the way. Runners, like artists, tend to be a different breed. They run because they love running, not necessarily for accolades.┬áThere’s a community – they cheer the last runner as much as, if not more than, the first. There’s a sense of running into battle together.

Interestingly enough, running cross country and acting have similarities. We have our individual goals – I have my personal objective and tactics in our scene – but we’re operating as a team – actors, director, DP, lighting, sound, etc. We’re working together to tell the story. It requires ongoing, specific training – improvisation, script analysis, cold reading, on-camera techniques, audition, etc. It requires stamina. And I’ve met some really great people along the way. I love running. I love acting. Let’s run together.