It Was On Purpose

A reflection on CSPA’s best ever boys cross country team

Joseph Braun, Social Media Manager / Design Editor

On athletic.net, the website used to track results for cross country, track, and field, and other similar sports, there’s a list of the top 20 5k times in CSPA history. It’s filled with times from across the board, with the earliest record being set in 2011, and no one year having more than four times to its name–with one exception. In 2020, all seven members of the varsity team made it to the top 20. As of the conclusion of this season, the entire top 20 ran under 20 minutes. One freshman, Sebastian Beskow, ran just 4.4 seconds shy of that mark and made it to the number 21 spot, and he didn’t even make varsity this year. There’s absolutely no way to overstate the accomplishments of the team this year. Keeping my language polite, the Sentinels quite literally took names this year: In the Conference, Championship meet, we beat the Whitmore Lake team, who could be called our longtime rival, and were faster than us at the start of the season.

There’s absolutely no way to overstate the accomplishments of the team this year.

The early-2020 lockdown defined the entire season. The 2020 track season, which I had hoped would be served as an opportunity for training, was canceled, along with the rest of school. I was suddenly cut off from just about everything.  A few people on the track team organized off-season practices, on the assumption that the season wasn’t totally canceled. Getting out of the house, getting all dressed in my warm-ups, driving ~30 minutes from my house to run in freezing cold weather with a bunch of senior girls I’d never spoken to before, that became my one way out of the house. As the lockdown stress mounted, running became my primary coping mechanism. I can think of many days where I did nothing aside from run. I wasn’t every fast: I was running 9 or 10-minute miles on 2-3 mile runs, but at the very least I was running. The loss of the track season had another effect: I couldn’t letter in track. I lettered in robotics my freshman year, but it was a personal goal of mine to letter in athletics before I got my varsity jacket. Since I didn’t letter in cross country the first time, and couldn’t letter in track, I was all the more driven to earn my letter in the 2020 cross country season.

For much of the team, the story of this season was longtime runners finally putting the pieces together and breaking–nay, smashing–the 20-minute barrier. The highest sub-20 time that was set this year was 19:22. I recall the meet where I broke that barrier, where after multiple disappointing races where I was tens of seconds above 20, I ran a clean 19:36 and set what was at that time the season record for the whole team. The ego boost I earned from that was quickly checked: I ran the second or third place for the entire rest of the season. The 19-minute barrier was also smashed–only by one runner–Carson Lucas, the team captain, flew during the pre-regional race to an 18:11 time, which was a nearly 30-second personal record and nearly 50-second season record.

I don’t want to bore the reader with hard running stats: The numbers don’t sound too impressive out of the context of the sport, and I didn’t quite understand them myself until this season. All that matters only to establish one fact: The 2020 Boys Cross Country team was the best boys cross country team to ever grace CSPA. That didn’t happen by accident. The team logged more total miles than ever before. The average week for myself and a few others were greater than 30 miles per week. Ray Schumaker and I competed to be the first to run a week over 50 miles once. He beat me to the mark, but I got more miles total. Sunday, the first week of practice, I was sure that I had the entire team beat for miles before Sebastian logged a five-mile run at 11 PM.

Only effort and dedication were able to get us there. I treat my body like absolute garbage, as does most of the team. It has been that way for a while, and it’s in spite of that we succeed at all. What changed this season was the sheer amount of effort, of conditioning, of willingness to tolerate the pain just a few minutes longer, because what’s a few minutes of pain to the glory of a new 5k record, or a fast mile time? I’m not even in the same league of a runner as Carson, yet at the end of some speed workouts, I’d try to race him for 200-400 meters. He’d almost always win, but what was important was that myself and others were pegging ourselves to and above the fastest runners on the team and saying “that’s what I’m doing at the next race.”

I began my season thinking that if I could break 20 minutes, I’d be a happy man. I ended the season, disappointed that I didn’t crack 19. For the whole team, our goalposts were set, met, and moved, constantly. Last season, I “PRed” at almost every race, made multi-minute improvements, and basically never felt “disappointed” after a race. This season, I expected and demanded better out of myself. Sometimes, what I expected wasn’t what I was physically able to do. The feeling of being disappointed after a race is crushing, and can go two ways: One is to say “to hell with it all, I’m no good at this, why do I even bother,” and the other is to get back up, get mad at yourself, grit your teeth and rage your way all the way through an even harder race next time. It took some convincing sometimes, but every time I felt like I failed a race, I chose to get mad rather than sad. I think that there’s a bit of truth about life in that, honestly. Sadness might feel more cathartic, but it’s demoralizing. Emotionally, anger is perhaps unproductive emotionally, but as a motivator to do better, it is…energizing.

So, that’s where I am now. That’s where the team is now. Energized. As I write this, I’m currently taking a break from running, to allow my body to recover, but some of my teammates have already begun preparing for the track and field season. Coach gave us a goal of 5-minute 1-mile times to start the season off with. It’s hard, it’s unthinkable, and it’s absolutely necessary. My goal for the track and field season is to accomplish the impossible, again, so we can put CSPA on the map even more than we did this season, so I can make it to states in my senior season, so I can beat Carson’s times, and so I can look back after I’m finished and say I did the absolute best I possibly could, and that I did it with, and on, purpose.