If you ever get the chance, try getting out to a high school cross country meet.
There are plenty to choose from in the area. On a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoons, there are three- or four-way team meets you can attend in parks around Southwest Washington.
District meets in mid-to-late October are also good, especially the 4A and 3A meets at Lewisville Park, where the fall foliage often produce a picturesque backdrop.
Last weekend, I popped out to the Nike Portland XC meet, which after about a dozen years at Portland Meadows racetrack, returned to Blue Lake Regional Park in Fairview, Ore., on Saturday.
And there was a lot to take in.
There were the athletes themselves, nearly 6,000 of them on Saturday, giving every last bit of effort to race over the 5,000-meter (3.1-mile) course.
There are the spectators, moving like a murmuration of starlings from one spot on the course to another in order to get the best vantage point.
There are cheers from the crowd, clanging cowbells, air horns, and coaches who are able to project their voices above the cacophony of sounds to be heard by their runners a hundred yards away.
Last week’s rain showers left the course soft in areas, some of which became shoe-sucking quagmires.
At one point, meet director Ken Martinez (yeah,he’s related, in case you were wondering) was walking around the course like Prince Charming with a single race shoe in his hand in hopes of finding its barefoot owner.
But what I liked watching were the runners, even when they were not running.
Cross country runners are a different breed, and they know it.
You get used to that when you tell people you run cross country, and their first reaction is to ask why.
Trying to explain running to a non-runner is like trying to explain swimming to a cat.
So many teams prefer to explain themselves through messages they have emblazoned on team shirts or sweatshirts.
There are the straight forward slogans like “Eat. Sleep. Run.” or “No train, no gain.”
Others take is up a notch, like “It’s a privilege to choose how you suffer.”
Some are profound – ‘’Don’t limit your challenges. Challenge your limits” or “The easiest things are often the least rewarding. The most rewarding are never the easiest.”
Some teams prefer to use quotes.
“When I race my mind of full of doubts – who will finish second, who will finish third?” attributed to former world-record miler Noureddine Morceli.
Sweet Home (Ore.) High took a quote from former U.S. hockey team coach Herb Brooks: “The legs feed the wolf.” Except the Sweet Home runners had “wolf” scratched out and replaced with “Huskies.” Sweet Home Huskies, you see.
Dallas (Ore.) High had this quote: “Cross country. No halftimes, no timeouts, no substitutions. It must be the one true sport.” It’s attributed to Chuck Norris, who I believe had a good finishing kick.
And then there’s “cross country is my girlfriend” which as a former cross country runner I can attest could have multiple meanings.
We’ll just go with the interpretation that the runner is so dedicated to his sport, he has no time for anything else, and not that he has trouble getting girls to go out with him, even if those girls happen to run cross country.
Like I said, cross country runners are quirky.
But of all the slogans I saw, one remains my favorite.
“Trample the weak. Hurdle the dead.”
Yes, cross country is not for the weak of heart, or weak of stomach.
That’s especially true when volunteering to work in the finish chute.
Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538, email@example.com or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.