Running, A Team Sport?

Opinion By Courtney Rockness

‘RUNNING is an individual sport.” A runner of ten years, this is a phrase I believed for a long time. Starting off my athletic career as the slowest person on my middle school cross country team, it was easy to think of the sport as “every man for himself.” I did absolutely nothing to contribute to our team score. To me, despite being on a team, victories were individual. If our team won, it was because our top runner had a great day. If I got a personal record, despite how our team did, the meet would be a success in my eyes.

The next five years of my cross country experience were no different. I got faster and did score points, yet every race became a competition. Not just against the other teams, but my own teammates as well. Sometimes it was more of a fight to just keep my varsity spot on my own team rather than to beat our rival team.

Everyone was at such different levels that this mindset only made sense. Only individuals would qualify for the State Championships, since we were never fast enough to make it as a team. Individuals would break records. Individuals got the glory of being the “fastest” or the “best.”

So to me, running was an individual sport.

It’s a phrase you hear often, and perhaps for good reason. Sure, you have a team, and in my personal experience that team always felt like family. I loved being with them.

Yet in competition, a runner doesn’t rely on their team as, for instance, a soccer player might. It’s not a traditional “team sport.” A runner doesn’t even need a team necessarily to compete or practice. Historically, running events have always been either individual or team competitions.

It’s these reasons that make running such a convenient sport to do at any age, level, and in any circumstance.

Run with eyes wide open

Three weeks ago I ran my last cross country race ever, as a college senior. And if my college experience taught me anything, it’s actually that running is NOT an individual sport. Or rather, it shouldn’t be. And the experience is so much richer when it isn’t.

It’s not that anything really changes at the college level. There are still stand out athletes. It’s still the top five that score.

Yet for whatever reason the more I ran, the more my eyes were opened to the fact that running is, in fact, a team sport.

Amidst a constant battle with injury, yet still competing on a team, is where I came to realize that it’s community that kept me going. The reason why I continued running was not so much for personal glory as it was a feeling of belonging and community.

Running, and really any form of exercise, is so much better with other people. Having a team always motivated me even when I was having a bad day or couldn’t be running at all. It gave me motivation to get up and get moving.

When I was running, having a teammate by my side always gave me motivation to push the pace and go faster. My team gave me the encouragement I needed to keep going and finish strong. It’s all those people cheering for you or running alongside you that makes the whole thing worth it.

Run and rejoice

Having a team allows for an outlet to rejoice in the successes of others even when you yourself fall short. It allows you a space to be disappointed even, and have somebody else know what that feels like.

So running is a team sport. For me, it hasn’t always been, and I’m sure I can speak for many runners when I say that. Yet when you accept and begin to realize how much impact a team or other community can have, it will change your running or exercising experience.

My college cross country team, after a race
The men’s team, cheering their teammates through the finish