Biking in Boredom

A look inside what it's like to be injured on a cross-country team.

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Biking in Boredom

The cardio room at City High, where cross-trainers work out.

The cardio room at City High, where cross-trainers work out.

Rachel Marsh

The cardio room at City High, where cross-trainers work out.

Rachel Marsh

Rachel Marsh

The cardio room at City High, where cross-trainers work out.

Rachel Marsh and Emme Perencevich

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What does someone who is in a sport do when they become injured and unable to participate? In some sports the player is benched or becomes the cheerleader. In others, they just stop going to practices. In cross country, people with injuries become cross-trainers. Cross-trainers are people who are unable to run because of an injury–ranging from chronic arthritis, to shin splints, to cysts, to stress fractures, and everything in between. 

I happen to have a cyst. Well, technically, I have a losency in my left ankle, which means that either there is a cyst or there was a cyst, and it messed up the cartilage, making running very painful. Most of my pain is a result of my overly tight thighs and calves. As a result, I go to physical therapy twice a week and I bike. Every day after school I go to practice. I sit on a bicycle and move little metal slabs around in a circle on a near-broken machine. I have been cross-training all season and will continue to cross-train, finishing my sophomore cross-country season without running in a single meet. 

Now, what do all the injured people do at practice? Well, we bike in an enclosed dark room and we rehabilitate. That is just as fun as it sounds. The cardio room is dark–the lights are rarely on–hot, and stuffy, with very little airflow and very dull-looking. It’s not pleasing to look at and with so many broken, sad, unused bikes and ellipticals, and sad, injured people, it just gets more sad. It’s not fun, it’s not exciting, and it’s not interesting or challenging. Every day, all the cross-trainers disappear into that environment, work out, and then hear about all the great runs occurring on bright, open roads. The cardio room is flat-out depressing. Runners do different things every single day. They see different things, smell different smells, run different paces. Cross -rainers, like me, don’t get that luxury. It’s the same boring old room, the same boring old activity, and the same boring old pace and pattern. 

No one likes to be injured, obviously. Personally, I hate it. I mean, I wasn’t a top runner, but I also wasn’t the slowest. I liked running because it kept me fit, it didn’t require any hand-eye coordination, and my friends do it. Ever since freshman year, my ankles have hurt. I didn’t run a couple of meets and I cross-trained every once in a while but most of the time, I just dealt with the pain. Then, when the pain returned this season, I knew something was wrong. Last season, I was told it was growing pains or that I just had weak ankles. Now I know something was wrong. When I found out I have a cyst I was crushed. I wanted to run. I want to run. I have not gone to a team dinner this season yet because I feel like I’m cheating. I didn’t run, I shouldn’t take their food. It’s the same with after-race meals. I eat those because I’m hungry, but I always feel uncomfortable doing so. I know it’s meant to be for the whole team, but something inside me says it’s not for me. I’m out of place, I shouldn’t be talking to them, they ran, they’re stronger. I know it’s not my fault that I’m injured and I am a part of the team, working just as hard as they do, but sometimes I have to convince my brain. After a race, when I go over to support my friends, getting surrounded by runners in the process, I feel out of place. Runners are elite and in my mind, I am less than them. My other friends that are injured are not less. They work hard and they are elite. It’s just me. 

By nature, I am a self-conscious person. I always have been, just like all teenage girls. I am hypersensitive to what I think other people think about me. I convince myself that everyone thinks of me as weak and therefore I am, even though I know I am not. I convince myself everyone noticed I didn’t run, but I eat the team food and they’ll think I cheated as a result. I hate eating team food. It is for the team, but all the coaches ever talk about are the runners. It’s a team of runners, and when you can’t run, it feels like you aren’t really on the team. Now maybe I’m overthinking it. I probably am, but it still goes through my head every single meet. I no longer jump at the sound of the starting gun; does that mean I can call myself a true cross-country runner? 

Something needs to change. The environment needs to change. Maybe it is finally time to get rid of all of the broken bikes. Maybe it’s time to put some color or windows into the cardio room. Maybe the coaches could give the cross-trainers specific workouts just like the runners get. Maybe it’s the mindset. Sure, exercising gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy, but when you cross-train, those endorphins just get sucked right out of you. I don’t like going to practice anymore, but I used to. I don’t like going to meets, but I used to. Cross-training takes the fun and family out of cross-country.