When the 2015-16 cross country season ended, many runners chalked the season up to a loss after the boys varsity team placed fourth in the CCS finals, just missing the cutoff for states. The girls team was more satisfied, ending the season at state championships after finishing top two in CCS for the third straight year. However, the team overall considered last season a success, with each runner recording a personal best time. To the runners, this was more impressive than placing higher on the leaderboards. They broke their success down into two categories: teamwork and practice.
Cross country is often thought of as an individual sport, but senior Bennett Zhang explains that there are very strong elements of teamwork.
“There’s this sort of mental aspect to it,” Zhang said, “where if you’re running by yourself and there is no one around to compete with you, you’re probably not going to run as fast as if there are people running with you or challenging you.”
He explains this with something he calls the snowball effect. If one of the runners starts to run faster, it puts more pressure on the person in front of him, causing him to run faster, and the effect eventually goes all the way up to the runner in first place.
“It’s teamwork that has really driven me to work hard and improve myself,” Zhang said.
As a team, everyone gets faster if they all work hard and give 100 percent effort.
“Cross country may be an individual sport,” varsity coach Kirk Flatow said, “but it takes place in a team environment.”
Leading into the season, most athletes spent time every day running. Junior Megan Wang explained that practice usually includes a 1.5 mile warmup, stretching and then a daily workout which varies from two to 10 miles, depending on the day. Workouts also include core exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups, all of which help prepare for meets.
Flatow explained that the meets throughout the season are important for athletes to track their progress, but the only meet that counts for the team is league finals. The entire team is aiming to be at its best for league finals, which takes place in November. Although that may seem like the distant future, training must be done progressively, slowly getting more and more difficult, to prevent injuries and overexertion.
Flatow believes that it’s all about the effort the runner puts in, and to him everybody can improve by working hard. According to Zhang, many people shy away from cross country because they feel they aren’t fast enough, but in truth, the only thing that matters is the amount of work you put in.
“You may be less talented than someone else,” Flatow said, “but if you outwork them, you might just be able to catch them.”
Additional reporting by Om Khandekar.