Race through Newton

Running is a punishing aspect of most sports.

Cross-country is a sport that's all about running.

On Wednesday, nearly 1,200 of western North Carolina's high school runners experienced that punishment in Newton during the 19th annual United Way Unifour Cross Country Invitational.

The runners came from everywhere – Asheville, Boone and even area schools in Catawba County.

The meet, held at Southside Park off U.S. 321 Business, was more like a fitness party with races in the middle.

Around the park grounds, tailgating tents of varsity blue, green and gold housed teenage runners lacing up their shoes or taking naps.

Chance Richter, of Alexander Central High School, played guitar and sang songs while waiting for his race at 5 p.m. His female teammates chuckled as he flicked away an annoying horsefly and strummed a tune.

Other runners, such as East Rowan’s Brad Oden, strapped on Nike racing flats in silence. He picked up a small, red singlet and pinned on a number.

A rainbow of colored jerseys filled the park.

Joggers were everywhere. So was food.

The scent of Gatorade bottles, bagels and bananas combatted the stench of dried sweat and must, and gray tarps kept the runners clean.

Herds of racers flew by every now and then, stomping, pounding and shaking the ground for a brief moment.

After the races, teens coughed and moaned while they waited in line to receive their medals, give their numbers and be counted. They exchanged “good job,” “nice race” and other half-winded comments in between breaths.

One female runner from T.C. Roberson High School finished her race and her teammates rushed over immediately. They were ecstatic with the girl’s performance. She probably didn’t finish in the top 60, but they didn’t care.

“I almost peed my pants when I saw your time,” one girl said. “You did so good. What are you going to do now? Go to Disney World?”

High school running junkies are like this across the nation, and the annual race in Newton is one of many held every weekend throughout the year.

The sport of running cross-country is different. A good different.