ND Free Pass: Cross Country

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

Carol Schaal

You gotta be on your toes to catch a home Cross Country meet. Only two events took place on the ND campus this fall semester, the National Catholic Invitational and the Notre Dame Invitational. Both were run at the 9-hole Notre Dame Golf Course.

Couch potatoes need to plan ahead for top viewing comfort. A lawn chair helps. A cooler is nice. And, if you have one, a cute dog can add waggy-tailed spirit to the event.

Throw in a screaming toddler or two, and for fans the meet feels like a day at the park.

That was the flavor of the Oct. 1 ND Invitational. Gorgeous autumn day. People and dogs running around. Lots of good cheer.

Oh, wait, there was a competition.

Quite large, actually. The 55th ND Invitational featured teams from more schools than I could count, including Oregon, Florida State, UCLA and Tulsa. The Gold division had 19 women’s and 15 men’s teams; the Blue division (Division I schools) showcased 25 women’s and 21 men’s teams. The women run 3 miles; the men 5.

ND men’s coach Joe Piane calls the event a “participatory sport.” “You can’t just eat popcorn,” he says.

Now that’s a great spectator idea. Instead of grabbing a lawn chair and waiting at the finish line, as some viewers did, you can work in a workout. To truly enjoy the competitive aspect of the sport, fans gather near the start gate, dash to various points of the course to cheer a favorite, then take short cuts to end up flanking the finish line before the first runner arrives.

This can be tricky, however, because you don’t want to cross the actual course. Or even confusing, as one small boy discovered after the start of the men’s gold race. “Mom,” he said, “where are they going?”

To round out the experience, you can also check out the area past the finish line chute, where the tired harriers are handed cups of water. That can be rather disturbing, however, as some runners are on the verge of collapse and must be grabbed before they hit the dirt while others just hurl. And beyond that is the med tent, a reminder that even something as glorious as running fast on a sky-blue day can be dangerous.

No one appeared to suffer major ill effects, but the Irish didn’t fare so well on that Friday afternoon. The men finished 7th in the Blue division; the women 18th.

While results obviously matter to the participants and their coaches, an air of encouragement flavors the viewing experience. “Stay strong” was the operative chant, and the last-place finisher was cheered just as lustily as the first.

So take your choice. Relax in the sun and applaud those lanky, sweaty folks as they dash by, or vicariously join in and give yourself a pat on the back for healthy spectating. What’s not to like?

Check out ND Free Pass for a spectator’s sampling of the less-heralded side of Notre Dame competitions: the rowing and the running, the putting and the spiking. Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at schaal.2@nd.edu.