Cross country team takes season in stride

Arul Gnanasivam

His lungs burn. 50 meters. Sweat drips down his face. 40 meters. His breath gets heavier and heavier with each step. 30 meters. His legs feel like collapsing, but his mind refuses to let them stop. 20 meters. His heart beats through his chest, and his skin burns from the sun. 10 meters. Almost there. 5 meters. Done. He slowly comes to a stop and gasps for air.

Three miles may seem like a lot to many, but for the cross country team, it is just another day at practice. Races are even more difficult, with runners going uphill in the blistering heat. In order to prepare for the physical strain of a race, the team trained throughout the summer.

“Our coach, Jake White, held practices pretty much every day at 6 a.m.,” said captain and senior Roopak Phatak. “You don’t have to run fast. You just make sure you get mileage and build up your aerobic capacity, and that makes you that much faster.”

In order to endure the long distances, athletes also work on the rhythm of their running. Runners focus on their breathing, which helps sync the movements of their legs and arms. This technique can ensure the runner keeps a consistent pace throughout the race. If runners run too fast at the beginning of the race, they may burn out by the end; similarly, if runners run too slowly at the beginning of the race, they may not be able to catch up near the end. By running miles everyday, runners can find what the ideal pace for themselves is and utilize that knowledge during races. Another technique some runners use is keeping track of where other competitors are during the race. They can then hold a position between two runners to ensure they are not lagging behind or running too fast. Some also like to stare at the backs of competitors’ heads, a method that allows for them to focus and not let the pressure of the race get to their head.

Cross country athletes also have to prepare for the mental toll of a long distance race. Before the race, runners develop strategies.

“I keep in my mind what pace I want to keep the entire race,” said junior Austin Chen. “Or specific people I might want to stay with throughout the race.”

During the final stretch of a three mile race, it becomes easier and easier for runners to give up, forcing them to find ways to stay at pace until the finish.

“You kinda have to push yourself to the limit both physically and mentally,” Chen said. “[You] tell yourself that the race is almost over and there’s no reason to slow down now.”

 

The team has already shown impressive results from its hard work over the summer. Its first meet took place at Pebble Beach on Sept. 8, where the team placed third. Two days later, juniors Vincent Peng and Cosmo Cao won first and second, respectively, in a meet at Lynbrook. Despite his success, Peng, like many other runners on the team, has higher goals in mind, such as making it to states championships.

Although some runners focus on qualifying for states or CCS, others focus more on personal growth.

“People have a goal per each course,” said senior Catherine Hwu. “All the statistics are online, so it’s about trying to beat your own time.”

Runners had another chance to improve their personal records when they traveled to Hawaii for the bi-annual Iolani Invitational meet on Sept. 13. The team had to adapt to the new climate, and due to hurricanes and storms, the conditions were often rainy and windy.

“The weather is completely different in Hawaii,” Peng said. “It is humid there; it’s just worse. You get more sluggish.”

The girls’ team battled the conditions to place eighth out of 18 teams, and the boys’ team placed eighth out of 28.

When not competing, the team took frequent visits to the beach. The coaches also organized snorkeling trips and visits to the mall. On other days, the team enjoyed group meals including traditional Hawaiian barbecue and sushi. During the trip, the runners would often split into groups for different activities; dinners gave them an opportunity to spend time with the whole team. But in the end, the simple act of running together brings the team closer with each race.

“We spend so much time together running and at meets, so it’s really easy to become super close to other people on the team,” said sophomore Gaby Tran. “I think that when the upperclassmen make an effort to be inviting to the freshmen, it really helps the team grow closer and makes being on the team a lot more fun.”

Building such an environment can be difficult, since the team has so many members. The roster this year increased from 70 runners to almost 100. Still, coaches and parents find new ways to have the team spend time together.

“We have pasta feeds before our races this year,” Hwu said. “It’s family style, so we eat together and socialize.”

As the season continues, not only does the team want to achieve their individual goals, but they want to grow closer as a team.

“I would even go as far to call it a family,” Chen said. “[We’re] very tight knit, and we share many laughs at practice, whether we have a workout that day or a long run.”

The experiences at meets and Hawaii have given the team practice both physically and mentally. As the season continues, the team hopes to continue its efforts to make it to state championships, not just as a team, but as a family.