Sept. 24, 2010
Cross Country is ultimate mental game
By Maggie Corwin '12
A cross-country runner's mind is a whirlwind of questions and thoughts: where is the start line? Am I on the inside or the outside? Is the first turn to the right or to the left? Am I on the same side of the turn, or am I going to get pinned when I try and cross over? Is my breathing correct? Do I have my body angled accordingly with the steepness of the hill? Should I stay with this person or accelerate? Where is the finish line? When should I begin to sprint?
According to Northwest's head coach for men's and women's cross-country Scott Lorek, these questions are answered well before the starting gun goes off.
Runners need to know what lies ahead. On Friday, the day before the Northwest Bearcats compete in the 25th Anniversary of the Roy Griak Invitational in Minnesota, the team will jog the course and then discuss it to prepare for the meet.
"The day before, I let people jog through the course on their own, although I will gather them together if I feel the need to point something out," said Lorek. "I do not have to point things out to everyone, although I still have people who say, ‘Wow. Really?' If you end up having to ask yourself a question during the race, you are probably going to end up doing the opposite."
Lorek believes the runner s need simply to react during a race. They should not have to make any decisions. As Nike says, just do it. When runners make decisions they become tired and lose valuable seconds, things that not only affects the individual, but the team as a whole.
Cross country can be viewed as both an individual and team sport. Maintaining a balance between running for one's self and running for the betterment of the team is not easy, but it is part of the mentality of the sport. Knowing when to make choices that are personal or ones that are for the team is what makes a great runner.
"The good thing about cross country is that it is individualistic," said Lorek. "But that is also the more challenging thing about it. You have to remember this is a team and there is a certain danger if it becomes too personal."
"It's one of those unique sports that can be both," said Kayli Hrdlicka, a senior cross country runner for Northwest. Junior teammate, Angela Adams, agrees.
"Everyone has their own set of goals they want to accomplish," said Adams, "but we all work together so hopefully we can qualify as a team."
The uniqueness of cross country is what brings about so many diverse opinions. Every person looks at the sport a little bit differently. Senior Clay Martin views it as strictly team oriented.
"Yes, you are in it by yourself," said Martin. "But if you are running for your personal success, you are not going to do as well."
Running long distance takes discipline. By backing up teammates and pushing them to do better, a bond is formed that changes an individualistic sport into one that is team-oriented. During competition, looking for a familiar back helps Hrdlicka pull forward. But during practice, running together motivates pushing on.
"We spend so much time and so many miles together," said Hrdlicka.
"We are able to talk in practice," said Adams, "or even vent if we want to. It's fun."
To run for the team, a competitor first needs to know how to run for themselves. The questions and nerves that occur before a race are not always easy to deal with.
"There is a fine line between being engaged in running and focused on what is going on with your body," said Hrdlicka. "After some of the best races I have ever had, if someone were to ask what I had thought about, I couldn't remember anything."
The mental fortitude needed for each competition is astounding. Runners mix fun with competition and knowing when to set personal goals aside for the betterment of the group is not easy. Fortunately, the bond Lorek has formed with his teams makes race preparation a little easier.
Northwest's team is so close that Lorek knows when it is safe to take a step back. The night before a competition, he will say a few words but otherwise he lets the team takeover. There are no captains; no one who is in charge.
Before the meet, the boys and girls huddle separately. Lorek doesn't even know what is said in those brief meetings. Then they toe the line and wait for the bang. The first turn is just up ahead.
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