Cross Country Racing In The 80s Was Dodging Fresh Sheep Shit

I’ve never been much of a runner, I’ve got two left feet, knobbly knees and basically it gives me ZERO pleasure.

My running technique is best described as ‘it looks as though she might trip over at any time and is battling a horrific side wind + is she okay?’

As a kid I used to trip over fresh air and do this funny thing with my arms like I was karate chopping. I also kicked my legs out weirdly, it gave everyone quite a laugh.

This morning as I watched 7 and 8-year-olds take part in the school cross country I was taken back to my childhood when I had to compete in such events.

Well compete is too strong of a word, let’s just say I attended. Back in those days running races were actually across the countryside.

As in we had to dodge fresh sheep shit, jump over fences and run past sheep, cows and other farm life.

You’d get itchy legs from the long scratchy grass and occasionally you’d run into a big thistle or stinging nettle that a farmer had let get out of control.

cross country

BUT the beauty of actual cross country running races is that you aren’t in public view for the entire race. They see you at the start and then the finish.

This means no one can see you stop and walk as soon as you’re out of sight. Additionally, just before you come back into the public’s eye you start running again.

As you burst through the finish line the crowd erupts because….

  • Someone was just about to be given the job of going out to find you because you had taken so long.
  • You were dead last and EVERYONE there feels sorry for you.
  • The crowd isn’t actually cheering for you but for the person behind you who is just about to reach the finish line and is from the race AFTER yours.

As an adult I still detest running. Shin splits, an ample bosom, a dodgy under carriage and knees that creak like the tin man are just a few reasons.

So as I watched my son run a respectable distance and then just stop I didn’t yell ‘keep running’. I thought meh, what a shame that cross country races are now on the oval where everyone can see you.

My heart ached for a little girl who I work with during my parent help sessions. She sprinted at the start and was still at the back of the pack.

About 50 metres in to it she started walking and finished minutes after the others dead last. But she did it.

cross country

And why do they still call it a cross country?

It should be called what it is: ‘Pulling laps of the oval in front of your peers and feeling really shit about it if you come dead last’.

Today’s events also got me thinking about the certain types of running styles of kids who compete in compulsory running races.

  1. Those who sprint from the outset and continue this pace until the end and win that red ribbon.
  2. Enthusiastic starters who slow their pace about half way around and then walk because they realise they won’t get in top 3.
  3. Kids who know they’ll going to come close to last but NEVER stop running even if it’s barely a jog.
  4. Those who get a burst of energy as someone is close to passing them.
  5. Those who keep looking behind him because they fear they’re about to be passed.
  6. Kids who start and finish going hard out but have actually walked for 60% of the race (me).
  7. Children who always seem to be sick on cross country day.
  8. The Hollywood’s who say their performance was hindered because they were pushed, were tripped up or had equipment failure such as a loose shoelace.

I might have some more types to add to the list because tomorrow my youngest races. And then on Wed it’s my oldest’s turn.

So tell me, did you love or loathe cross country races?

Did you ever actually run across the countryside?

Got a good story for me?


  1. I loathed it Em! Yes we too actually ‘crossed country’. We had to run a good stretch of it along a railway line. Lol. As if putting one foot in front of the other with a painful side splitting stitch wasn’t hard enough, we had to stumble over railway sleepers and rocks as well. As for running around the oval now days I really don’t know why they call in cross country. IBring back the rugged terrain I say. As much as I might have loathed it at the time, I’m grateful for having had that experience. Feeling a bit nostalgic now. 🙂

  2. I actually used to do okay at cross country, maybe cause none of us could be bothered running it. Ours used to be down along the highway, through a farm, through the showgrounds, up the bush track and then down a couple of streets and back to the school oval (which was massive), certainly no running in circles for us and definitely barbed wire fences, creeks and gates. Funny how you kinda look back on it with fondness even though you know you hated it as a kid.

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