4 Years: A Look at a Cross Country Career


The 2022 squad poses with the trophy after our win at WCAC championships. Photo Credit: @demathaxc

Maximo Legaspi, Editor-in-Chief

Many things go through the head of a runner during any race, particularly in cross country. The long, winding courses, along with the general energy that one has at the start of a race quickly dying as they realize they have 2 more miles to go, allow for a plethora of thoughts. Among these thoughts, one often stands out. Why am I doing this? Why am I running in the middle of nowhere in 85 and 35 degree weather? I’ve asked these questions of myself many times, and it’s only fair to look at why I do this sport.

To start, we have to look back some 6 or so years. My dad is a big runner, and my brother ran on DeMatha’s cross country team, and both seemed to enjoy it a fair bit. In my middle-school eyes, I never got it, though. I went to one of my brother’s races during his junior year, and it was baffling. Why am I just standing in the middle of this random cornfield waiting for a bunch of skinny teens to run past me for 2 seconds?

I’d find the answer to that question in my freshman year of high school. Finding myself in a situation where I had very few friends, doing cross country seemed like a decent idea. I’d get myself in shape and be able to meet some new people! To be completely honest, though, I’d always thought that making friends would be the hard part, and getting to be a Prefontaine level runner would come naturally. I don’t think I was ever more wrong.

My first 5k was a major wake up call. I had run maybe once the entire summer leading up to it, and this was supposed to let me see how a race worked before heading into the season. Was I excited? Not particularly. The singular run I went on beforehand probably couldn’t even be classified as one, considering 90% of it was walked (which became a running theme throughout the first years of my cross country career). I didn’t do that great in my first race, either. As soon as the gun went off, I sprinted for about 50 feet, thinking I would leave my brother and dad in the dust, but I soon found out that I would be the one eating their dust. Between yelling from the two to keep on going, I saw many elderly people pass me by, and I’m pretty sure a toddler ran faster than me that day. Once it was all said and done, I finished that race in around 40 minutes. It was particularly embarrassing for me, especially since I was trash-talking my brother the entire time beforehand, only for him to walk my out-of-breath self to the finish line.

Onto my first practice, which went about as well as you’d expect. It was at Greenbelt Lake on a muggy August day, which made the upcoming run even worse. We had to do a loop or two around the lake, and not having learned my lesson from the 5k I botched, I went out sprinting. To my utter shock, however, I got tired only 5 seconds in! Even though situations like this would happen throughout my freshman year, it was extremely memorable because I saw other freshmen running around like it was nothing. As I was struggling to keep myself on my feet, I saw the likes of Ian Parsons and Jayden Keels at the front of the pack, leading even the seniors. 

As the months went on, and as we got really into practices, I was able to make many friends, but my progress as a runner was still going bad. I finished the first two 5ks of the season at around 35 minutes, and I would possibly miss out on future ones if I didn’t get my time down. Each of those finishes were demoralizing. I had run my hardest, collapsing at the end of both races, yet my times were seeing no improvement. To remedy this, my coach sent me and one of my teammates, Steven, to a local 5k that was held every Saturday near our school. Coincidentally, this was also the site of my first 5k, where I had the record-breaking 40 minute finish. I remember the moments leading up to the gun being fired, telling myself I wouldn’t walk over and over again. To my surprise, though, I didn’t! I ran, possibly the fastest I ever did up to that point. I even passed a couple of old guys! However, my favorite part was as I approached the finish line. Mind you, in previous races it had taken me at least 35 minutes to get there, but as I glanced at my watch, I saw that I was at 26 minutes! The image of Coach Puffett and Steven jumping up and down and cheering me on as I sprinted into the finish is burned into my head, and was the highlight of my career up to that point.

Freshman year was a year of firsts, and a lot of learning experiences.
Photo Credit: JayLee Photography


Even though my freshman year started out in the trenches, with some hard work, encouragement, and actual running, I was able to carve out a respectable time. Beyond the physical improvement, I was able to grow in my mental fortitude. Sure, races still sucked a good bit, but over the course of the season, I was able to bear with it.

Now onto everyone’s favorite year; the Covid year. Due to the lockdown, it was tough for me to get out and run, and even when the restrictions were lessened, I had been in such a sedentary lifestyle that any physical activity was extremely tough. Despite that, I still committed myself to participating in cross country, though it was heavily changed from the year prior. Because school was meeting online, practice was only 3 days a week, and we were all on campus. The additional rest might’ve aided some of the better runners on the team, but for someone like me who needed a lot of improvement, it hurt my times in the end. In my final race during my freshman year, my time was around 24 minutes. In a not so surprising act of regression, both physically and mentally, my times dropped down to around 32 minutes for the several races we ran that year. If you couldn’t tell, I slowed down a lot.

Not only was my haircut rough sophomore year, so was my work ethic and my race times.
Photo Credit: JayLee Photography

It wasn’t only the pain of not being in shape enough to get back to my freshman times that was present, but it was also mentally draining. I had put in the work the year prior to get to a point that I was content with, yet I had seen all my progress slip through my fingers over the course of just a couple months. Finishing last every race, knowing that I didn’t give my all even though I could’ve, was tough to think about. Combine this with the general stress of the pandemic and other factors, my sophomore season was definitely one of the lowest moments.

Even though I had mentally committed myself to improving my times, it was hard to physically commit myself to it. Like I said previously, when you are locked into a certain way of life, it’s hard to break out of it. Junior year would be a year of great change for me. It was going to be my first full year attending in-person classes, I would be upping the academic intensity, and I grew my hair out. One thing didn’t change though, and that would be my involvement in the cross country team. I returned to the team having, as usual, done little practice over the summer, so it was no surprise that I started off my year slow. Like with freshman year, the first couple of races were in the 30-minute range, though sure enough I was able to break that time. 

I remember the exact race that I broke 30 for the first time after the pandemic. It was at Centennial High School in Maryland, and it was a good course. Sure, there were a couple rough spots, including a particularly steep hill, but it was just the right place for a good run. I had done a majority of the course out of breath, and as I was around 200 meters away from the finish line, I automatically assumed this would be another 30 minute race. However, to my surprise, I saw that the time was around 27! Sure, for most runners that’s not that great, but to myself, it showed me that I was improving. I also distinctly remember my finish. As “Eye of the Tiger” blared on the speakers, I made the turn down the hill into the track where the finish was, fell and rolled down said hill, got up, threw my chain in between my teeth, and sprinted all the way in. As I crossed, I was so happy that I yelled a victory cry to the 8 or so people standing in the bleachers, which they all apparently loved. Even though my time barely cut off the 30-minute mark, I was proud of myself for being able to climb out of the hole I had dug myself into sophomore year.

Sure, my time wasn’t that good, but it sure felt nice to break 30.
Photo Credit: Marie Legaspi

The rest of junior year went well, and despite not hitting my goal of breaking 23 minutes, I still had a great time. This was mostly due to the atmosphere on the team, aided by a great senior class (shoutout to Uncle Austin, Desmond, Tariq, Ian, Jacob, and Jackson!). We all worked hard and played harder, and each race was an experience that I’ll never forget. One of my favorite moments regarding team spirit was while we were watching the freshman-sophomore race. It was me, fellow junior Jaquada, and the non-varsity seniors waiting 100 meters away from the finish line, cheering our runners on. One particular sophomore, Andrew, had a penchant for kicking it in before the finish, passing multiple runners. This race was no different, and as he did his thing, Austin, in his signature Uncle outfit (visor, long socks, and rolled up sweats), kept on yelling and cheering. It was definitely a highlight of the year. 

Junior year was the first year I started to take things more seriously, and I actually had fun for once. Who would’ve thought running would be fun?
Photo Credit: JayLee Photography

Additionally, I also began to grow into a leadership role on the team. In previous years, I was mostly quiet, letting the more vocal people on the team take those spots. However, as I grew, both as a runner and as a person, I started to want to become a leader. I encouraged people, helped with stretches, and many other things. Did many people take me seriously? Probably not, because who wants to listen to a slow junior try and hype everyone up? Still, that season woke something up in me, something  that pushed me to want to become a captain, which I did.

Senior year. The year of my co-captaincy, and my final year of cross country. Coming into the season, I was extremely motivated. I had, for the first time, put in the work over the summer, running almost every day to get in shape. Sure, did my 50 year-old dad beat me in a race during those months? Yes, but I started off the season below 30 minutes, a great feat for someone like me. Additionally, it was poised to be a great year for the team. Our varsity squad was stacked, and we would be having at least 30 runners run with us, the most we’ve had since my freshman year. With a bright eye, and a hopeful heart, I ran into the season ready to win championships.

The path to a title was paved with a lot of adversity, though. Because there were just so many people on the team, there was a mix of personalities that didn’t always work together. The team environment wasn’t terrible or hostile, but it didn’t have the type of camaraderie that was present in my junior year. Having to manage all of that, along with focusing on improving my performance, the hell that is college applications, and school work, certainly took a toll on me. Still, I tried not to let it affect me, and I’m confident in saying that it worked. Over the course of a couple of races, I would set a personal record, break it the next race, and set a new one. Like with my first race breaking 30, I remember each one, and I have a couple of highlights from them. When we returned to Centennial, I was inching closer and closer to my times from freshman year, and the work everyone on the team had been putting in did great things for me. As I ran that course, I felt amazing. Obviously, my legs were extremely tired, and my breath was shaky, but I was running faster than I ever did before. I remember glancing down at my watch around 500 meters before the finish line, and I saw that I could set a PR if I tried, and I was able to! I broke my best time from freshman year, something that I was proud of. 

Fast forward a couple weeks to the Chesapeake Invitational race, and I was ready and hyped to do even better. Despite catching a cramp 2 miles in that slowed me down a bit, I still, for lack of a better term, ran my ass off. As I passed many of my faster teammates, I realized that I had the opportunity to break into the 21 minute range, one of my goals that I had held since my first season. Once the finish line was in sight, I kicked it in, as usual. Even though I got passed by several other runners, it didn’t matter to me. I had finally reached my goal I had been pursuing since freshman year!


Chesapeake Invitational was one of my favorite races of my senior year and career, probably because I finally got my goal of breaking 22 minutes.
Photo Credit: JayLee Photography

Even though I wasn’t able to break 20 the rest of the season, I was still proud of myself. After finally putting in the work necessary for a successful season, the benefits were clear. Not only did I personally improve, but so did the team. We went from finishing second in championships to winning it all, and winning multiple races along the way. Sure, there were some bumps along the way, but it all came together in the end.

The seniors (sans Daman and Ian) pose for one final post-race picture after 2022 Private Schools.
Photo Credit: David Hoke

After running through my entire cross country career, it’s only right to answer the original question. Why am I doing this? To be frank, there’s many answers. Obviously, running a lot keeps you in good shape, but if all I wanted to do was stay in shape, then I could’ve ran by myself. I joined to make friends, but being the coolest guy ever, I probably would have made friends not running several miles a day in sweltering Maryland weather. 

I started doing it cross country freshman year for those reasons, but there was one thing that kept me coming back year after year. The feeling that swept over me every time I crossed the finish line, the feeling of payoff after running my hardest, is truly a great thing. Leaving it all out on that field in the middle of nowhere for about 5 people to see, is the feeling that kept me coming back.