On Nov. 19, I sprinted from one spot to the next, feeling breathless in the 25-degree weather on the National Cross Country Championship course. This year was the first since 2001 that Yale women’s cross country team had qualified for Nationals. The race was in Terre Haute, Indiana, also known as Cross Country Town, USA or “Terradise” by the collegiate cross-country faithful. Two-hundred and fifty women competed to claim the national title, covering the 6-kilometer course in 19–23 minutes. This past year, Oregon won the title by 0.01 seconds and a single point over second-place Michigan. The Ducks were ranked number No. 12 in the country entering the championship meet, but pulled off an incredible upset in one of the most competitive races in the history of the sport.
As my sister, Kira Garry ’15, her Michigan teammate and I drove away from the race course, we tuned in to the Yale-Harvard football game underway in Cambridge at the same time. We listened in awe as the final minutes of the fourth quarter ensued and screamed and cheered as Yale claimed its first victory in 10 years at Harvard Stadium.
While even those distant from the Yale community and the sport of football could fully appreciate Yale’s heroic display of grit, determination and athletic prowess against the Crimson, my sport of cross country has a steep learning curve when it comes to attaining the same sense of enjoyment. Cross country Nationals was one of the most incredible sporting events I have ever witnessed, but was limited to those who have already cleared the information gap that distance running presents.
Advocating for cross country is not intended to understate the strategic complexity of sports like football, hockey or soccer. Instead, it is to acknowledge that such sports are more easily accessible by novice fans. Sports like football pit two teams clearly against each other with easily understood scoring objectives and an immediately crowned winner. On the other hand, cross country races can include up to 20 teams lining up on courses largely obscured from the spectators’ view; individual times and team scores are recorded by computers and can take a nerve-wracking amount of time to calculate. At Nationals, Oregon did not know they had clinched the national title until the team had already returned to its tent.
All of these factors, compounded with the lack of cross country coverage in popular media and culture, make it a tough sport to follow.
I am a cross-country athlete at Yale, and while I did not race at the National Championship I traveled 900 miles — and missed The Game at Harvard Stadium — to support my team. Around campus, however, I’m often bombarded with comments such as “It seems so boring to just run in circles,” “How do you enjoy that?”, “Have you run a marathon?” and “What do you do at practice?” Few people understand the team aspect of cross country and the joy that is collegiate running. Races are won and lost not by individual achievement, but by group effort; the top five women on a team record points, and your point total improves with higher finishes.
We run for each other, we run in a pack and we run to win. As many Yale athletes can attest, our sports are more than just scores, finishes and statistics on paper: They are the shared experience of challenging oneself.
How can we create this sentiment with a sport like cross country, which is exhilarating but not conducive to an engaging fan experience? Yale’s fan following of cross country may be sparse due to the infrequency of home meets, but every attendance adds value to our competition. It was heartwarming to see friends and classmates show up to watch us compete three weeks ago at the annual Harvard-Yale-Princeton track meet at Coxe Cage, even if the tri-meet was many spectator’s first time witnessing the sport.
We all love to challenge ourselves in the classroom and to grapple with the difficulties of our coursework, but I challenge you to also invest similarly in learning about supporting our Yale sports teams. Ask a runner about a tempo workout, interval training or what fartlek is all about. And if you feel like running 13 miles at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, catch us at Payne Whitney Gym.
Trina Garry is a junior in Berkeley College and a member of the Yale women’s cross country team. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .