A newfound respect for cross country runners


As I neared Camino del Llano during a July 11 run, I felt like I had finished a considerable portion of the four-mile course I was attempting to complete.

Georgia Garcia, assistant coach for the Belen High cross country team, was there to burst that bubble — through no fault of her own.
“You’re at the one-mile mark,” she said.
I thought I/we had run a lot further than that already.
After jogging had been my main form of exercise during a recent road trip, I ended up adding more running to my exercise routine since I returned in mid-June. I have long wanted to see if I could run with one of the county’s high school cross country teams.
I could even have picked another of the state’s hard-working teams to follow, such as Lynette Padilla’s Valencia High group, or the Los Lunas team coached by her father, Larry. But since I live close to BHS and know the ditch banks well, I knew I could “train to train” with Eagle runners on their course.
The four-mile BHS summer training course follows part of Christopher Road and crosses a field, then follows ditch service roads to Cannon Road and returns to BHS via Mesa Road and Delgado Avenue. I ran the course a few times over a three-week span, telling BHS head coach Joseph E. Garcia about my plan, and he enthusiastically encouraged me to join the group for one of its informal 6 p.m. weeknight runs.
As expected, Jared Garcia, the state qualifier and sophomore-to-be and son of Joseph and Georgia, set the pace, along with former all-state Lady Eagle Tayler Hendren, who is about to begin her New Mexico Highlands University career. While most of the runners were so far ahead that I couldn’t see them, I knew their pace was swift, and it kept my legs moving in a subconscious way.
The start seemed brisk, and it wasn’t until I was south of Camino del Llano that I felt I was running at a comfortable pace. However, I didn’t intend to run at a comfortable pace for long, other than to save something for the uphill home stretch on Delgado.
I ended up running much of the second and third mile alongside Josh Garcia, the elder brother of Jared and a former N.M. Highlands runner, who was serving as a sweep alongside a relatively inexperienced Eagle athlete. I was able to outrun them and finished my four miles in 44 minutes, 21 seconds.
After sticking around for the Eagles’ thorough stretching and a cool-down routine, which includes push-ups and crunches, I realized I worked my lungs hard, but my legs actually could have done more. At least I had a baseline time for future runs on the same route.
Some probably view four miles of running as child’s play, especially with 11-minute miles. BHS teacher Jeff Kerby probably looks at my workouts as a simple chorus of “happy birthday” compared to the Queensrÿchian complexity and depth of his round-trip bicycle rides to Albuquerque.
However, I am told exercise is about growth, and if all one can do is get off the couch and do a few push-ups or go for an evening walk, it sure beats doing nothing. I love red chile chicken stuffed sopapillas as much as the next New Mexican, but we have to burn calories from time to time.
I have heard athletes refer to running or some sports as “not a real sport,” especially if it does not involve contact or much cardiovascular exercise (sorry, billiards players, shooters and golfers — you aren’t burning calories, cart-free golfers aside.) However, I have new respect for distance- and middle-distance runners after my recent tag-along with the Eagles.
When cross country season begins soon, I will no longer be simply some creepy guy with a camera, crouched down in the weeds along the course. I’ll be a creepy guy with a camera who has actually run with one of the teams, trying to get a tiny firsthand glimpse of the sport so many seem to love.

-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.