For Ukrainian Runners, a Brutal Race Made Sense When Little Else Did
When I started racing cross country, there were few serious races for the novice to contend with. The local cross country clubs offered races for beginners as an opportunity to socialize, get fit, and meet new friends. Some races were open to anyone between the ages of 14 and 17 and they were always open to the public. The races were typically 5k or 10k long, were held in the spring or fall, and were often held in scenic natural areas. Most of the fun was in the actual races, not in the social aspect or at the post-race party.
Over time, the distances had increased, with most races lasting anywhere from 2.5-5 miles and most races having multiple divisions in each age group. The age group championships became the race highlight every year and this is what most of us wanted- to be in the top three in that age group, and to win either the overall or junior category. The other races were there simply to make sure you made it to the finish line. When races were held regularly, the crowds were often large, the temperatures high, the music loud and as the crowds got bigger, the races became more of a challenge to run. The longer the race, the more intense the competition. It got tougher and tougher and the crowds became more intense each year. Sometimes the distance would increase and sometimes the course would get longer. It just kept getting harder and the crowds kept getting bigger.
As cross country races grew more competitive, the race was becoming known more as an end-of-the-year event. For that reason, most people who ran or raced in cross country wanted to get into the faster age groups and avoid the more crowded senior and youth races. More often than not, the distance would increase but the course would remain the same or get more challenging. This made the races even more challenging and made the top young women and men out of high school look like a joke.
The lack of variety in