I had one particularly favorite 6-mile loop in high school that I ran twice a week. The loop passed a rather large cow pasture and every time I ran by the first fence post, the cows would start to chase me.
Every summer I wax philosophic over my high school and college cross country days. Oh how I love off-road racing. Cross country isn’t always about the faster runner or even stronger runner. Oftentimes it’s about the one with the most heart and perhaps the one who has “raced the cows.”
The summer between my junior and senior year in high school I really decided to make running “my sport.” No one else in my family ever ran more than 100 yards, so besides the fact that I was too short, too slow, too weak and too undeveloped, I was also too stubborn. Stubborn is a good trait for runners. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate to lose. And I’m stubborn.
Getting back to my summer training (1980, for those keeping score), we lived in south central Pennsylvania, in the midst of quite a few corn fields and cow pastures. I had one particularly favorite 6-mile loop that I ran twice a week, every week all summer. The loop passed a rather large cow pasture with a very large herd of frisky bovines. It seemed that every time I ran by the first fence post, the cows would start to chase me. The pasture frontage was over a mile and honestly, it’s a little unsettling having nearly 100 cows running next to you, even if there is an electric fence between us.
As the summer passed, I noticed I was able to stay ahead of the bovines longer and longer and longer. Finally, by mid-August and the start of cross country camp, I was able to outrun them the entire length of the field. Racing the cows had become my training mantra. And race them I did; twice a week all summer long.
By the way, the fastest recorded cow ever clocked ran 27.4 kilometers per hour. If Usain Bolt’s 100-meter world record, 9.58 seconds (34.4 kilometers per hour), were extrapolated over a full marathon, he would run it in 1 hour, 7 minutes, 12 seconds. My Moosain Bolt training partner would cover the same distance in 1 hour, 32 minutes, 23 seconds. My best marathon time? Two hours, 36 minutes, 36 seconds. Usain and Moosain are fast!
Fall cross country racing is made by summer training. We all have our cows to race, whether we are walkers, joggers, milers or marathoners. If you have a goal in mind, you need to have some level of commitment in order to achieve it. My senior cross country season went pretty well until a stress fracture in my right foot curtailed racing in mid-October and I missed the conference and district meets. Still, my cow races helped shape a pretty good fall season and I did achieve most of my goals. And boy, did my senior track season go well!
I still race cows, even 37 years after that senior season. There aren’t a lot of cow pastures near where I live, but there are a few. Unfortunately, the local Moosain Bolts don’t want to race me, so I’ve invented other “cows” against which to test my mettle, such as tug boats on the canal or bicyclists pedaling uphill.
So find some cows to race and race them often. You may find yourself with a new-found desire or speed or heart you never thought you had. And I bet you’ll never look at a sprinter, or a cow, or even a hamburger the same way again.
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.