An Unexpected Close: A Captain’s Reflection on Four Years of Cross Country

Carolyn Wang
6 min readNov 11, 2022
Warming up during my RAM invite on Sept. 24, 2022
Warming up during my RAM invite on Sept. 24, 2022

I already half-expected that my four years of cross country would end with a bang when I tripped and fell face flat onto the finishing mat of my last high school Baylands meet on Oct. 18, 2022.

Don’t worry — my chip did manage to record my time, and I was extremely proud of that epic finale. But what I surely didn’t expect was the even wilder ending when, a few days before CCS (CIF-Central Coast Section) Finals, my last XC meet, I tested positive for your favorite neighborhood virus: COVID-19.

I guess it makes sense in retrospect — the meet prior to that at the SCVAL Crystal Springs League Meet a week ago, I was already feeling really off.

So while I did miss our last team run up Saratoga Gap to watch the sunset as a senior, the tasty pizza cookies at Mountain Mikes afterwards, and the last meet of my high school career, (don’t worry, I did rage in sadness for a while like any rational human being), I know that’s really a small thing in the long run. Because although some might call it a bittersweet ending, I choose to call it something else: a wrap to a lifetime of memories.

And that makes all the difference. ❤

Rage-running in my yard after testing positive for COVID-19 three days before CCS :,)
Rage-running in my yard after testing positive for COVID-19 three days before CCS :,)

I initially joined cross country in freshman year because, why not? It was both a risk and a bit of a troll. In elementary school, I was always the slowest runner out of my friends; I took pride in being the trolliest “it” in games of tag, since I couldn’t catch up to most people anyways. And during middle school miles, I’d always end up feeling like I wanted to throw up. If there’s an inkling of chance I could be a better runner, oh yeah? I was definitely taking it.

I started out the first few practices of high school cross country on the track with my first coach, Coach Moon, while everyone ran their 2–3 miles outside the school. It was most definitely painful at the start, but slowly, I began increasing mileage under his guidance.

Yes, I was super proud when I ended freshman year with a 7:17 mile time— over a 30 second reduction from my initial time of 7:52. But what was more important? I found a warm community in the people I was surrounded with.

During the winter months of 9th grade, through pouring rain, freezing winds, and frequent check-ins on a little plant (dubbed plant-y) that grew through the turf of my high school football field, I got to run with my two new best friends from XC every day, relishing in the absurdity of scrambling up-and-down the same hill over-and-over. (Yes, I can’t believe it, but as freshies we actually did that by ourselves without the pushing of a coach. People who saw us probably thought we were crazy.)

I joined track the spring later, and managed to reduce my mile-time to 6:32. That’s also when the virus hit in the beginning of March, ironically, on the day I was supposed to do my first track meet. (Thanks corona, for your beautiful obsession with thwarting meets!)

As for what I did during sophomore year? I ran some more, teehee! As best described by this lovely article here. I later got to have a semi-normal season in spring, where I found myself stuck on the border between JV and Varsity, but not quite fitting in either; it was an interesting experience, to say the least.

Racing in the Baylands 5K SCVALs opener my junior year
Racing in the Baylands 5K SCVALs opener my junior year

Junior year came with a lot of firsts: juggling new coursework, navigating upperclassmen hallways, and getting the honor of being elected cross country captain.

I hadn’t fully recovered from pandemic isolation yet, and was definitely more quiet than I ought to be. But I had a new group of super supportive runners, and we rocked a comeback; I made new friends, speeded through CCS to the best of my abilities, ran my first consecutive 10 miles on Thanksgiving, and halted much of it after a super rough time second semester junior year, the details of which I won’t dive into but something I probably still owe my AP Chem teacher an explanation for. (It wasn’t academically-related, if you’re reading this!)

Senior year XC is the one I remember most vividly now, and it ends with CCS tomorrow, which is part of why I decided to write this entry in the first place. The human mind is truly intriguing — things that aren’t documented will, most certainly, become forgotten history. (Which is maybe why I should be thankful that contracting the virus prompted me to write this blog post. Or it might just be that I’ve been reading too much George Orwell, which explains this sudden philosophical turn. ^v^)

Anyways, here we go:

We started off with a surprise: after my old coach (whom I thank profoundly for getting me started with the sport), announced his retirement, the boys and girls teams combined under Coach and Mrs. Tippetts, who were my track coaches freshman year and XC coaches during the pandemic.

I was super bummed to see my old coach leave, (although I still frequent his weekend runs with my friends at West Valley!) But now that we were expecting change? Bring it on! And looking back, this was one of the most fun seasons I’ve had.

“Climbing” up the hill at the RAM invite
“Climbing” up the hill at the RAM invite

We got to go on weekend team runs in places like Sanborn Park; race at invitational meets like Half Moon Bay and RAM that featured scarily steep hills; complain and utterly fail at mafia during team nights; share ketchup-pretzels and cream cheese bagels on vans where we were all squished together; freeze in the splish-splash of rain; eat lettuce-brownie combos during senior night like Rowley from Diary of a Wimpy Kid; dress up as princesses (even senior boys) during senior day; take horrible panoramas because mis amigas y yo kept running in the wrong direction; crumble racing bibs; accidently run to the next city and add an extra mile to our 7-mile run; whine during core and stretching; sing let-it-go in freezing ice tubs; enjoy nature as we jogged in the forests…and so much more. While my use of semicolons is, quite frankly, unwarranted here (because commas will do), they were unforgettable moments that I believe need that spicy touch to serve them justice. Moments that, I’m happy I had the wisdom of consciously appreciating in the moment. (Easiest explanation for that wisdom? Let’s just say that after 2nd semester of 11th grade, I read and learned a lot from articles on being thankful.)

Because now, despite missing out on the last week of my final season with the other varsity runners, I have no regrets. I can focus on gratitude. Who knows whether I’ll have another ketchup-pretzel tasting sesh in the SHS van or sing let-it-go while dipped waist-deep in ice? Not everyone gets to have such a vivid and unforgettable relationship with running, best described by one of my favorite cross country sweaters: “Our sport. Your sport’s punishment.” Not everyone has the opportunity to run at all. Nor does everyone have the chance to be part of such a tight-knit community.

As my coach, who’s also going through some of his own health trials, said the other day on our run at Rancho San Antonio, “we’re often so caught in the moment that we forget to step back from the trees and look at the whole forest. We’re really lucky we get to run.”

He’s right.

I’ll always appreciate these last four years of cross country.

And as I’m re-reading this entry again, it almost feels like a college essay. But there’s no big, hidden meaning to any of it. No polished, well-thought-out growth realizations or life lessons. It’s really just a spontaneous, non-proofread, first-draft spewing of thoughts. All I really wanted to do was end by saying:

Thank you, XC. (To the people, the sport, & the memories.)

Just a happy face I created
Just a happy face I created

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Carolyn Wang

CS + Public Policy @ UC Berkeley. Writer, musician, triathlete, & explorer. Learn more here: carolynwangjy.medium.com/ae3eb5de2324