I asked Wabash Cross Country Coach Roger Busch, whose training camps are known for their cross training (how many cross country training camps include a canoe race?) what he was hoping to accomplish when he gathered the team together at Camp Talitha this year.
Steve Charles—I was interviewing Professor Greg Redding ’88 this week about running his first 100-miler over the summer—the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run. One hundred miles of being pushed to his absolute limits on mountain trails between 4,000 and 9,000 feet in elevation. Running day and night, through summer heat and banks of snow. He’s writing about the experience for Wabash Magazine’s upcoming issue on men’s health.
After hearing some of the agonizing and ecstatic details of Greg’s run (and his unforgettable description of turning off his headlamp during the moonless night and running the trail with the shimmering Milky Way stretching across the sky above him), I asked him why he does this—why all the hours of training, the pain, why he’s chosen a sport that is, as he admits, the exercise used for punishment in other sports?
I’ll let him answer that question himself in the piece he’s writing, but I noticed a book in Greg’s office—Why We Run: A Natural History, by Bernd Heinrich—and found these two quotes that offer food for thought.
The first is from the late Jim Fixx: “As runners, I think we reach directly across the endless chain of history. We are reasserting, as modern man seldom does, our kinship with ancient man, and even with the wild beasts that preceded him.”
The second is from Heinrich himself, who concludes a chapter on the connection between today’s runners and our ancestors with this: “There is nothing quite so gentle, deep, and irrational as our running—and nothing quite so savage, and so wild.”
Greg trains on the trails of Shades State Park, which is one of the places Jim Amidon and I shot video and photographed the Wabash Cross Country team in late August as they began their summer training camp. (See photo albums here, here, and here.)
“The main reason for camp is team chemistry,” Roger said. “As corny as it may sound, being trustworthy to one another as individuals goes a long way in a sport that is demanding physically like distance running. The better you know someone the more likely you are to run for them and the good of the team.”
“Having a common goal and the passion to pursue it as a unit is something most people struggle with in life, and the sooner our young men can come to terms with sacrifices beyond their own personal pride, I believe the better off they will be as people who are ready to contribute to the world.”
So how did this year’s camp go?
“This is the best year so far for camp,” Roger said. “I believe the guys care more about one another than in the past. They are "hanging out" more together outside of practice, and I think that’s because of the one-on-one time at camp. I talk to them often about passion and emotion instead of simply going through the motions, the checklists, and I feel like it is slowly sinking in!”
Even President White is running these days. He completed the four-mile alumni cross country meet last weekend after an invigorating summer spent, in part, hiking in the Grand Teton Mountains of Wyoming. In his Chapel Speech yesterday he recalled encountering there a bear “as big as a Volkswagen, maybe bigger.” His reaction to that encounter provides yet another, perhaps more Darwinian answer to the question of why we run.
“He was maybe 10 yards in front of us walking across the trail from the lake,” Pat said. “I looked at him, he looked at me, and then I found my legs.”
Was he still carrying the image of the bear with him as motivation as he crossed the finish line last weekend? Jim Fixx wrote of kinship with “the wild beasts the preceded us” as one motivation for running. How much more so those that follow? In photos: Seth Einterz powers up the trail during training camp at Camp Talitha; Cross Country Coach Roger Busch ’96 lead his team through a workout.