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?