Life Lessons from Cross Country

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Life Lessons from Cross Country

Written by Rod O’Donnell on 19 August 2019.

Look for an updated article “Life Lessons from Cross Country” by Rod O’Donnell in the next print issue of RUNOHIO.

 If you are reading RUNOHIO, you are most likely someone who is interested in running, but you may not understand that cross-country is a great sport. It doesn’t always get the attention that it truly deserves, and, at times, those who are passionate about it don’t communicate how special this sport really is.

Cross-country is a sport that teaches many life lessons that our current culture does not promote or fails to emphasize. These traits not only will help athletes perform better, but they will make their lives better, long after they have crossed the finish line for the last time. The following are examples of many of the life lessons that our great sport promotes:

1. Patience, not instant gratification – It takes months and years to develop a distance runner. Instant success is rare.

2. Hard work – There are no shortcuts to success. The magnitude of the rewards are proportional to the effort that is put into the sport.

3. Intrinsic rewards – Unfortunately, many times there is little public recognition given to even the elite performers in cross-country; however, the satisfaction that an athlete receives if he or she is truly passionate is immeasurable. Extrinsic rewards should not be neglected, but they cannot become the primary focus if long-term success is to be achieved in this, the loneliest of sports.

4. Responsibility for personal health – The body is a temple, and you are given only one; therefore it is paramount that we take care of it. Eating correctly, getting the proper amount of rest, and drinking fluids are important to success in cross-country, and they are some of the key ingredients to living a healthy life.

5. Not placing first – Being the very best that you can be, regardless of where you finish, is the goal of every runner. Getting the most out of your ability will lead to success in nearly all your endeavors.

6. Team success – Cross-country is truly a team sport. Without all of the team working together, the team will not succeed. This is also true of anything else in life.

7. Structure –Any successful team will have rules and will be well-organized. This will carry over into the personal lives of each team member.

8. Finishing a difficult task – This is one of the most demanding of sports. Long-term success requires the runners to have a vision and to be able to focus on both the present and the future, in practice and in races.

9. Mental toughness – Anyone who has ever run cross-country understands the mental toughness that is necessary to complete a work-out, a race, a season, regardless of success. The carry-over of mental toughness later in life is invaluable in a job, in raising a family, and in dealing with adversity.

10. Self-discipline – This trait is the key to success in anything. Our sport requires a great deal of self-discipline. Unlike many other sports, the coach is not always with each athlete, such as when they are doing a long run. OSHAA rules limit the coach to the number of coaching opportunities in the off-season; therefore, the runners must have self-discipline. One of my favorite quotes reflects this life-lesson. “Character is what you do when no one is watching.”

In conclusion, the success of any sport begins with respect FOR the sport. This must come from coaches, athletes, parents, and all others who are involved. Respect is the key to the survival and growth of the greatest sport on earth.

BREAKING NEWS: The National Federation of State High School Associations reported for the seventh year in a row that girls’ outdoor track and field has more participants than any other sport. Among high school boys, outdoor track and field was the No. 2 sport in number of participants.

Are you listening, NCAA Division I schools (and especially the Mid-American Conference) who continue to eliminate this very popular sport?

Yours in cross-country and track,

Rod O’Donnell

Read more of Rod O'Donnell's Keeping Track articles on -

 KEEPING TRACK - Ohio LabCenter for Running Performance -


 Keeping Track - The Aspen Institute -

Keeping Track – Goals -

Let Your Mind Run, A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory -


Life Lessons from Cross Country -

 Bring Back the Mile -   

Preparing for the upcoming Track Season -

KEEPING TRACK - Team State Championship -

Keeping Track -  CROSS COUNTRY -

Keeping Track - Number 7 -

Attending a Running Camp -

Can we do anything else to alienate sports fans -

Keeping Track - National Governing Body for High School Sports (NFHS)  -

 Keeping Track - Cross Country -

Keeping Track - Frank Shorter -

KEEPING TRACK, Two Iconic Coaches-

KEEPING TRACK -  Caldwell Story -

KEEPING TRACK - Furman Elite Training Group -

Keeping Track - 2 Divisions for 120 Lacrosse teams?

Boy's Division II and Division III -

Boy's Division I -;utm_campaign=july+2015+news&utm_medium=email


KEEPING TRACK - Football and Track Athletes -

 The Ohio High School Athletic Association State Cross-Country Championships -

Cross Country -

 Track Faces Challenges that could have adverse effects thus causing severe damage -

Marketing Track & Field -

Student Athlete’s Questions -

The Need to Speak Up -

A new book by John McDonnell -

KEEPING TRACK - From September-October 2013 print RUNOHIO -

Random Thoughts -

Another Division I institution has dropped its men’s track program -

 Ohio University Athletic Department's Worst Decision -

Ten Pledges for Cross Country Coaches -

London Olympics -

 Improving as a Coach –

You Only Go Around Once -

Dear Jesse Owens –

West Virginia State Cross Country Championship –

SPIRE Institute -

Why is the OHSAA Treating Cross Country Different than All of the Other Sponsored Sports?

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