Day in the Life of a cross country runner


Courtesy of Sarah Clark

The girls’ cross country team placed 7th in the 6A-5A division of the race.

In November, the girls’ and boys’ cross-country teams will race for the SPC championship at Norbuck Park in Dallas. On Aug. 28, the teams ran at Norbuck in a 4 x 1.5 mile relay that included parts of the SPC course, giving the runners a preview. The girls’ A-team of Alexa Christensen, Caroline Thames, Sarah Clark and Cici Calhoun placed 7th in the 6A-5A division of the race. The boys’ A-team of Danny Wasserman, William Thames, Wilson Bailey and Emmanuel Sgouros beat defending champion St. Mark’s by three seconds to win the 6A-5A division. Junior Natalie Boquist recounts her experience traveling to Dallas and competing in the Greenhill Six-Mile Relay at Norbuck.


3:55 p.m.: I arrive in the St. Luke’s parking lot 10 minutes late and prepare to be yelled at. At least I’m not the last person there. 

4:00 p.m.: The bus begins its arduous trek through Houston’s after-school traffic, and the whole team vows to get work done. 

4:02 p.m.: We give up on doing work, blaming the spotty bus Wi-Fi instead of our lack of motivation.

5:30 p.m.: We arrive at the Buc-ee’s in Madisonville and longingly look at all the junk food we can’t eat. I know we’ll be back tomorrow, so I mentally tally where all the good food is. The boys buy dinner there, but we plan on waiting until we arrive in three hours for actual dinner at an Italian restaurant (the key to a fast race is carbo-loading). 

8:30 p.m.: After many complaints of hunger, the bus pulls into the dark parking lot of Buca di Beppo in Dallas. It takes a while to cook enough pasta for a team of twenty who are preparing to run the next morning, but the other juniors and I pass the time asking the waitstaff for crayons and writing notes to every girl on the team.

9:00 p.m.: Food finally arrives, and the meat sauce is gone after 90 seconds. What had been a raucous room turns quiet as we enjoy the necessary and delicious pasta. 

9:55 p.m.: We finally arrive at the hotel, a good two hours after the boys. No one has enough energy for anything more than making it into the rooms and collapsing onto the beds—right after setting the alarms for 5:30 a.m.


5:30 a.m.: The alarm blares, but my roommate Caroline Thames is already awake and braiding her hair. We go through the motions of the morning like zombies, finally arriving at the bus somehow completely packed and ready by 5:55 a.m.

6:15 a.m.: The team arrives at Norbuck Park, and we start to sort out our team order arrangements. The meet is a 4 x 1.5 mile relay, a format that none of us had experienced before. My teammates—Nora Doughty, Ava Hicks and Cora West—and I choose the order of Nora-me-Ava-Cora. Running second means that I won’t have to start with all the other runners and that I get to cheer for my teammates after I’m done, so it’s the perfect spot.

6:45 a.m.: We jog the course as a warm-up, side-eyeing the hay bales we’ll have to jump over with a bit of trepidation. Why would anyone take something as painful as a cross-country race and add hay bales?! Discussions on the best hay bale jumping techniques (including the straight-up hurdle, the step and jump and a mix of the two) abound. The large hill we’ll have to face at the one-mile mark looms large, but we instead focus on how nice the downhill will be. 

The boys’ cross country team beat defending champion St. Mark’s by three seconds to win the 6A-5A division. (Richie Mercado)

7:30 a.m.: The boys’ race takes off. The boys 6A-5A and 4A races start at the same time. With the girls starting five minutes later, everyone prepares for the course to be utter chaos over the next 45 minutes.

7:35 a.m.: Nora steps up to the line. The start of the first leg looks almost exactly like a normal cross country race, with the runners starting together and funneling onto the course. The gun goes off, and the throng of girls accelerate into the distance. 

7:45 a.m.: It’s almost my turn. In years past, teams used a gardening glove as a baton, but in COVID times we’ve been forced to simply tap hands. When I see Nora round the corner to the finish, I jog over to the starting line from my waiting place with other second-leg girls. The second we high-five, I sprint off onto the course.

7:51 a.m.: The first hay bale goes as smoothly as jumping over a hay bale in spikes can go. I use the step and jump method and don’t fall on my face, which is what really matters. Rounding the corner at the .9 mark, I hear Maverick runners who have already finished yelling to catch the girl in front of me. The dreaded hill is right around the corner, which is mentally the hardest part of the course. The cheers of my teammates force me up the hill and around the tennis courts to the downhill, where gravity does the hard work for me. Rounding the corner to the finish, I see Ava waiting and yelling.

7:56 a.m.: My part is done, and not a single hay bale was tripped on. I just hope no one took a picture of me flailing over them. For the next thirty minutes, I join the other finishers in screaming at our teammates until our voices go hoarse.

8:30 a.m.: At a usual race, we would be done after a short cooldown. But since we only raced 1.5 miles, we also need to complete part of an actual workout. As the JV race starts, we sprint up the steep hill three times, before jogging through the five-kilometer SPC course. 

10:30 a.m.: After stretching, pictures and more stretching, we pile onto the bus and prepare for the ride home. Little did we know our time in Dallas would not be over quite yet.

10:45 a.m.: We don’t want to wait until the Buc-ee’s in Madisonville for food, so we make an impromptu stop at Smoothie King in order to hold us over until Buc-ee’s. 

11:00 a.m.: The first group has just ordered after 15 minutes of waiting. All orders here are made through a walk-up window, so we sit in the burning Texas sun wondering if this was a smart idea.

11:25 a.m.: This was definitely not a smart idea. The first group has just paid and is slowly receiving their smoothies. The girls on the bus not ordering smoothies are distinctly unimpressed.

11:45 a.m.: Batch two of smoothies is finally out. After profusely thanking the Smoothie King workers, the bus begins its trip back to Houston. The boys are already an hour ahead of us, and Coach Fabre says that those had better be the best smoothies of our lives. They were pretty delicious and refreshing after a morning of running.

2:15 p.m.: After the Smoothie King incident, speediness in Buc-ee’s in Madisonville was imperative. This time around we could load up on candy, snacks and ice cream, but a few other girls and I go for the classic chicken tender option. Coach Fabre is not impressed when we explain why we’re not back on the bus yet. But perfect chicken tenders take time, and we were not about to mess with perfection.

4:40 p.m.: An hour and a half after our expected arrival time, we pull into Taub Lot exhausted but happy to be home. A 24-hour trip for 10 minutes of racing sounds crazy, but it was more than worth it for that smoothie.