Farther Together: Cross Country at Westside is for Everyone

Three girls smiling before a race
“Cross country is a great opportunity to mix with kids older than you and younger than you. The only difference is the distances that we run. We all get to share the same pain.”
 
A group of students in 4th-8th grade sitting on a log together
Weeks before the school year begins for most of our students, Westside’s cross country team is already hard at work training for the upcoming season. Mature trees, the Olympic mountain range, Puget Sound, and the Fauntleroy ferry landing is the picturesque backdrop for our 4th through 8th grade practices at nearby West Seattle favorite, Lincoln Park.

Cross Country in the fall and Track and Field in the spring are unique experiences among the additional sports that we offer at Westside. Our grade and gendered teams in soccer, basketball, and volleyball create tight bonds that are often an extension of the rhythms of the school day. In cross country, on the other hand, we build cross-grade level friendships, and support each other and extend leadership opportunities for students aged 5-14. Miller, a 7th grade runner, says, “Cross country is a great opportunity to mix with kids older than you and younger than you. The only difference is the distances that we run. We all get to share the same pain.”
 
A boy student running in a race

During a season when Seattle weather can be unpredictable, Westside has 67 students in Kindergarten-8th grade showing up to race in the sun, rain, and even sometimes hail at the hilly and forested Woodland Park on Sunday afternoons in September and October. While students in 4th-8th grade participate in weekly practices, students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade are invited to come race in the weekly meets. This year, we have a record turnout of 42 runners in Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

Aiden, a current third grade Westside Wolf, has been running with Westside since as soon as he was able to join the team in Kindergarten. Aiden reports his favorite part of cross country is running up and down the dirt and gravel trails and sprinting to the finish line. At the end of the race, I feel better than I was before,” says Aiden. His mother was a successful cross country runner in college who set records in her mile times, and when asked what inspired him to begin running at the ripe age of 5, he tells us, “my mom got me into it.”

The reasons that our students begin running vary-- sometimes it is their parents who inspire them, or it is a friend on the team who encourages them to join, sometimes it is simply about enjoying running and being outside. Regardless of the reasons for starting to run, one of the biggest benefits of cross country is that it becomes a healthy lifetime activity for many participants.

John Ratey, M.D., an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, writes prolifically about the benefits of exercise and brain health. He is the author of Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain and he co-authored Go Wild: Free your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization. His thorough research shows the profound positive impact that exercise, community engagement, and nature have on brain function and the protective benefits these offers. He writes that “Aerobic activity has a dramatic effect on adaptation, regulating systems that might be out of balance and optimizing those that are not - it’s an indispensable tool for anyone who wants to reach his or her full potential.”

1st grade boys at the starting line of a race

Chester, a current eighth grade student, has been running on the Westside Cross Country team since second grade. Reflecting on some of his favorite memories over the 7 years he’s been a member of this team, Chester recounts losing his best friend on the racecourse (who also happens to be a current eighth grader at Westside… fortunately, it seems he was found). Chester also enjoys running in the “wilderness,” and struggles with startline jitters that quickly give way to his race time focus on finishing the race and beating the person in front of him. He plans to continue running in high school and his parting wisdom regarding his experience in cross country is, “something about running outside and being in the trees is just fun. Trust me.”

 

 

Kindergarten boys at the starting line of a race

Alana, another eighth grader, has been running with Westside since fifth grade. In addition to saying that running “feels good... except if I feel like I’m going to throw up.” (We think all runners can relate to that!), Alana says her favorite part is the feeling of accomplishment at the end of each race. With a top 10 finish in the end-of-season championship race each year she’s been on the team so far, Alana is proud of her achievements so far and is hoping to keep the streak going this year at this weekend’s championship race.

Westside Cross Country supports a team of student-athletes across nine grade levels that participate in a nature-based outdoor running experience where they develop bonds that last through the races, seasons, and years as a Westside Wolf. On top of that, our runners develop a foundation for running and health which supports healthy habits throughout their lives long after they’ve graduated from Westside.
 

Student running

This Sunday, October 6 is the Championship Meet for Kindergarten-3rd grade Cross Country and next Sunday, October 13 is the Championship Meet for 4th-8th grade. We’d love to see some familiar faces out there cheering on our Wolves of all ages! Races begin both days at 1:00pm at Woodland Park.

Next up, Westside will kick off our basketball season in November. Keep an eye out for registration coming soon in early October.

Danielle DeLappe
Assistant Director of Athletics & Lower School PE Teacher

Mike Thomas
Director of Athletics & Middle School PE Teacher

Young students running in a race