Early Saturday morning, it was still raining! Who knew it could rain for 10 days straight in September! The rain soaked the ground, but it did not dampen the spirits of the runners or the competitive atmosphere of the morning.
By 7:45, the entire front lawn of Saltillo High School was covered with canopy tents and abuzz with parents seeking shelter, runners preparing for races, and coaches giving last minute instructions. As we walked parts of the course, I could see the new runners marveling at the difference between a cross country meet and a local 5K. The most obvious difference at that moment was the course.
Cross country courses are run on trails and grass, through hill and dale. They are also run rain or shine. Wet or dry. Mud or decent footing. The course at Saltillo is difficult, even on a dry day. There is one hill in particular.... what it lacks in length, it makes up for in incline!
We scoped out the course, got our racing tags pinned on shirts, and went back under the tent. Actually, I should mention that there were 3 tents! We have grown over the last few years! Smiling, I quickly made note of the difference in our tent and others... Our girls had knitting needles poking out of their bags rather than I-Pod cords! I love this group of kids!
The coaches gathered for last minute instructions. Coach Covington went over the usual details, "Make sure the pin is not in the hole that says 'do not pin here', tell the runners someone will take the tag off at the finish line, and, oh yes, we will only delay if lightning is striking in the immediate vicinity... but even then we will not stop any races in progress!"
As an aside... The Saltillo cross country coach, Charles Covington has been more than willing to work with home schoolers... Other coaches have been much more accepting because of his example. We are thankful to him for this and for his Christian example in the public school system!
After the coaches meeting, I ran back to the tent to gather the JV girls. We paused for the national anthem, sung by chorus members huddled under an awning, and then we headed down into the mud pit... I mean starting area.
It was time for it all to begin. Coach Covington gave starting instructions to the girls and backed into the field with his arms raised. I noticed that the girls' shoes were already soggy, and their legs brown with mud spatters! The gun went up. (Actually, he didn't use his gun... just raised his arms.) "Runners Set!" Coaches prepared their stopwatches. "Go," as he threw down his arms and hurried out of their way. Crowds gathered along the course began to cheer as the mass of JV girls herded after the lead four wheeler. Coaches scattered around the course to places they had chosen for "encouraging" their runners.
(Some say that my "encouraging" sounds a whole lot like yelling... Maybe so, but they know that I love them! I prefer to think that on race day, I encourage loudly and with vehemence!)
By the time the runners reached the hill, they were covered in mud. Several runners had a difficult time even making it up the hill! One girl from Oxford gave me her mud covered glasses, because she had fallen and could no longer see through them!
JV boys were next. Same routine. Meet at the starting line for instructions... (this time it was a little bit muddier)...they're off! They did a fine job as well. I told all groups not to even look at times, due to the course conditions. This race was to be all about guts and survival...
The girls were staying loose, trying to calm their nerves, and waiting on the start. I backed up to wait and noticed that they were all standing ankle deep in mud. AT THE START! There is nothing like running an entire cross country race with soaking wet shoes and socks! Blisters would be a major casualty, I was afraid.
The race began, and my girls were looking strong as they went into the woods. Danielle slipped on the hill, and Julie moved ahead. Olivia, Catherine, and Martha were fairly close together. Mary, Courtney, and Emilee were hanging in there, "movin' on up!"