The Beauty and Elegance of Cross Country

AJWs TaproomEarlier this week I attended the Ragged Mountain Cup here in Central Virginia. This annual season-opening cross country meet brings together all the high school teams from Central Virginia in a two-mile race at the University of Virginia’s world class Panorama Farms facility and serves as a test-case upon which to gauge everybody’s summer base-building. It is the only race on the calendar that brings together the big powerhouse public school programs with the boutique private school teams in a way that truly provides a level playing field and a chance for that quirky cross-country mindset to be fully celebrated.

In the end, the outcome of the Ragged Mountain Cup is immaterial. What matters is the event itself. It is running at its most basic. A bunch of high school kids in the late summer heat pounding themselves into the ground for the good of themselves, their team, and their school. At the Ragged Mountain Cup, they come in all shapes and sizes. From the speedy 4:30 per mile guys to the 30-minute 5k-ers, this is an event for everyman and it celebrates nothing more than the simple act of running.

At the helm of the entire event is local running shop owner and unofficial “Running Mayor” of Charlottesville, Mark Lorenzoni. Mark’s contagious enthusiasm and youthful vigor is palpable and the kids feed off it. His entire family joins the show as each runner stumbles across the finish line exhausted and exhilarated and is greeted by one of the Lorenzoni crew. It is simple, elegant, and celebratory. The emotion is raw, the passion is intense, and love is in the air.

Additionally, all the usual cross-country amenities are on display at the Ragged Mountain Cup: goofy warm-up cheers just prior to the start, anxious first-time parents waiting for their kids to emerge from the woods, staggering salt-depleted kids stumbling off the trail into the hay bales after starting out too fast, spectacular collapses across the finish line and, of course, the inevitable snot-flying, puke-inducing endings when the heart rate finally falls below 200 and eyesight returns.

Most of all, what struck me about the Ragged Mountain Cup this year was how happy and joyful everyone was. Certainly there were kids disappointed by their results and long, bitter rivalries were inflamed but the overall theme was one of celebration, hope, and joy. Excitement for the coming season filled the air and new friendships were spawned while old ones were renewed. The community that had been dormant through the long hot summer was invigorated and inspired by the tromping of 600 kids running across Virginia farmland.

Perhaps there is a lesson these kids can teach us?

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Red Hook - Wise Cracker WitThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from an old Taproom favorite, Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville, Washington. Their Wise Cracker Wit is a lovely late summer wheat beer brewed with a touch of ginger. In fact, in keeping with the name of the beer the label reads, “Wheat beer with a touch of Ginger, but still digs Mary Ann.” It’s extraordinarily sessionable at 5.2% and, in contrast to other “spiced beers” I’ve toasted, it goes down smoothly without being clingy.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Where do you find your running joy?
  • Anyone else get sentimental at the thought of running your heart out over short-shorn grass through late-summer humidity, on crunching leaves on a crisp autumn morning, or through ankle-deep mud during an early-winter storm? Who else had their love of trail running born on these fields?
  • Anyone look back at scholastic or collegiate cross country as one of the major, formative factors in their lives?
  • Who else draws energy and inspiration from the younger generation racing cross country these days?
  • Anyone still testing themselves in these short-form trail races?

There are 12 comments

  1. Rudy

    Awesome AJW! The more I think about the purposes races, the more I agree with the thought that the only thing that matters is the positive atmosphere where everyone enjoyed themselves at the end of the day. Finishing any ultra is an accomplishment, and nobody REALLY cares about who won a week or two later. The lasting experience, to me, typically isn't my time or place but rather the memories that surround the event (like the positive atmosphere). Sounds like the Ragged Mountain Cup is that kind of event–one where the atmosphere and overall experience outdo the results.

  2. Charlie M.

    Top ten things all young VA XC runners need to learn:

    (1) Snot and Puke are never accetable at the same time;

    (2) You can't wear short shorts forever–enjoy it now;

    (3) Running 5K hung-over will not cure the hangover;

    (4) Starting slow is for wimps;

    (5) Elbowing is frowned upon once you start running ultras;

    (6) East Coast humidity doesn't exist on the West Coast;

    (7) One day you will look back on your HS running photos with awe;

    (8) XC is as good as it gets;

    (9) Soon you will have to pay $150 every time you run;

    (10) Now is the best time to try and be a professional runner–Go for it!

  3. Patrick

    Love it! I remember my first meet in the 104 degree Kansas sun! The team aspect of XC is really special and important at that time of life.

  4. LjD

    I vividly remember going to almost all of my older brother's XC meets growing up. Seattle fall showers be damned. Whenever we run together now (almost 15 years later) we still talk about some of the funny moments: football "jocks" showing up and yelling, "SPRINT! [name] SPRINT!"; and the good memories where he remembers seeing me on course cheering him on at the big meets.

  5. dawgrunner

    I always regretted never joining the xc team when I was in high school, though I got to see my younger brother in many events. There is nothing like watching the start of those large regional races, where nearly 100-150 kids shake the ground with their strides. The great memories I have of taking care of my bro after those races, seeing the determination and pain on all their faces, and the celebratory post race lunches were all apart of some wonderful Saturdays. Makes me want to catch some xc, somewhere.

  6. GMoney

    Some of my best high school memories are from my cross country days. Though track was a team sport in name, cross country really embodied the team spirt that I found lacking on our track squad.

    There was also something really empowering about away meets. Seven of us got out of a van at our opponent's school with Black Flag blaring on a tape deck intent on nothing but kicking butt, taking names, and flirting with the other team's girlfriends afterwards.

    Add that with the magic and beauty of running free in the great outdoors no matter the weather and you have a mix of memories to last a lifetime.

    All you high school XC runners, your time is short so revel in it. Burn fast and brightly now. You won't regret it.

  7. Rob Sargeant

    My favorite running route reminds me of the cross country races we did in high school. It follows beside a river on a 7km narrow winding wooded trail, and can get mucky after heavy rains. I love finishing with mud splattered all over me, like how I used to finish some cross country races in high school. Nostalgic feelings.

  8. Rob

    Ran my first XC race this time last year. I'd never raced before, and didn't know how cross-country worked or what to expect. The coach's response to my barrel load of questions? 'Just run fast', he said, 'forget everything else'. At the time I didn't think this very helpful, but I soon learnt to appreciate the simplicity of that advice. And it's that same simplicity that's making me stoked for the start of the season. Run fast. Put yourself out there. Have fun.

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