Just one kilometre to go, someone calls out. 500 metres now, and you wonder how much longer you can stay upright. 100 metres, just 100 metres to go! Then, after what seems like an hour of running up hills and over ditches, you cross the finish line. Nothing compares to the intense feeling of elation which follows, even as you fall to the ground with limp legs, gasping for air. As perverse as it may seem, the pain and hours of training that running demands of an athlete are completely worth it, if only for the accomplishment that one experiences in the moments after finishing a race.
At this year’s New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Cross-Country Championships, held on Saturday, June 15, Burnside had a strong team of 28 runners competing in six races, ranging in distance from three to six kilometres. This year we were fortunate in two regards. Firstly, with the weather: on the Sunday after the event, and in the week that followed, buckets of rain fell over Canterbury, but luckily the weather held off until the final race of the day was over. We were fortunate in another regard that we didn’t have to travel to compete, with the event being held at Halswell Quarry this year, a course which all of the Canterbury athletes were no doubt familiar with.
Although competing at home may have lessened the feeling of anticipation and nervousness that a runner would usually experience in the days before travelling to an event, I can report that the nerves were no less present when I heard the dreaded “five minutes until start,” called out over the loudspeaker. It’s also quite the intimidating sight for athletes when they see somewhere between 100 and 260 other runners to either side of them on the start line, some of whom may well be a foot and a half taller. But that’s what an athlete’s training is for; height and natural ability have less effect at secondary school level, where top athletes train once or even twice a day just to mix it with the others at the front.
The first event in which Burnside competed was the Year 9 Girls at 10:30 AM, running three kilometres, with the final event of the weekend being the Senior Boys at 1:00 PM, competing over six kilometres or three laps of the course. The standout results of the weekend would have to go to our two 7th placed runners; Charlotte Blair (Y10) in the Junior Girls and Sean Eustace (Y12) in the Senior Boys (pictured below). Sean, who has another year in this grade, also earned himself a place in the New Zealand team, qualifying to compete in the Australian Championships at the end of August this year.
View full results from the championships on the Athletics Canterbury website.
After we had all finished our events, just as we began retiring home for a warm shower and an indulgent lunch, rain began dotting down over the quarry. Later that afternoon, a prize-giving was held at St Bede’s College to award medals to top-placed individual athletes as well as three- and six-person teams, who were ranked based on the cumulative placings of the athletes from each school in a particular race.
And then there was the after-race social, held at 7:30 that evening. It would be fair to say that this writer was not in his social element, entering the venue at St Bede’s College. The initial minutes were spent seated, watching on as a few fearless dancers set the pace for the evening. However, with a good group of friends around me, I eventually took to the floor myself and, remarkably, could be seen jumping around with arms in the air, hopefully indistinct among the other athletes. In all, the disco seemed a success for everyone, and was a great way to cap off the weekend. It also reminds you that, as much as running is an individual sport, there is still a strongly social element to it as well.
With that, the biggest cross-country event on the secondary school calendar came to a close. However, until next year’s championships or the track and field championships in December, our athletes will no doubt be quietly returning to their ritual of training.
Finally, I would like to extend a thank you on behalf of the athletes from Burnside to the teachers and supporters who were there on the day or who helped organise our team in the weeks prior, particularly Mr Smythe and Mrs Sharapoff, our team manager.