Mark Oppenheimer analyzes runners in movies and in real life:
What was it to be a cross-country runner? It was to be invisible to the rest of the school. It was to run away from school every day, through the middle-class streets of a nondescript town, nodding occasionally at townspeople, talking amongst ourselves, discussing Hamlet or fractals or Say Anything… or our coach’s legs. It was to participate in the one sport that valorizes flight rather than encounter. Runners are cowards, and cowards have a choice: they can either bulk up and become fearsome themselves, or they can learn to flee. Cross country was training in cowardice.
I preferred it to rugby, which is proof enough, I guess, of cowardice. We used to run literally away from the rugby fields, across a small road, and into the Surrey hills, often in the pouring rain. After a few hundred yards, my asthma would kick in; after a mile or so, it either cleared up, or I'd have to find shelter in the secret copse some had made into a refuge in the woods. You'd find someone there usually, smoking a cigarette or huddled over some porn. I'd catch my breath, and artfully miss a few laps around the bottom of the hill, then try and slip back into the field, without the teacher noticing. We had it pretty much down. The boys, if not the teachers, knew that Sullivan couldn't breathe, so gave me a pass.
It's still so vivid in my mind: the mud, the autumn leaves, the panicked lungs, and, in my teens, the sense of such cheerful inclusion among all these horny boys, and yet also so much silent displacement. The porn was not for me.