Year-round runners keep up last season’s efforts in strong debut
“It went great,” head coach Jeff Stiles said of the meet. “It may be the best opening meet, if you take into account both sides, that we’ve potentially ever had.”
The meet, hosted by Wash. U. in Forest Park, was the first chance at competition for many runners since last November. But for some members of the teams, the opening meet was a continuation of a cycle of training and meets that hasn’t stopped since their arrival here at Wash. U.
Multiple members of the cross country teams also run in the winter and spring track seasons, and some even competed in multiple events at the NCAA Division III 2011 Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
“When nationals are over for track, we start building back up and focusing more on the distance, the hills, the longer runs,” senior Liz Phillips said.
For some athletes, the events that are run in the spring are very similar to the ones run in the fall, in that they are pure distance events. Senior Michael Burnstein, for instance, finished third overall in the 10,000-meter run and 19th overall in the 5,000-meter run at nationals, helping the men’s team finish fourth overall at the event for its highest-ever finish.
Burnstein, who placed sixth overall and second on the team in Saturday’s 6K race, noted a big difference in the mindsets of the two seasons.
“The actual training is very similar, but as far as mentality they’re pretty different,” Burnstein, last year’s University Athletic Association individual cross country champion, said. “Track kind of feels more individual, where[as] in cross country you know your time directly affects your team’s place.”
He added that he preferred the fall season to the spring. “I’ve always preferred cross [country], I think. Aesthetically I like racing on cross country courses more, because there’s more variation. Every week there’s a different course…I just really value that it’s more of a team sport and you get much closer to your teammates.”
For other athletes, such as Phillips, the fall presents a very different experience from the spring. Phillips, who won Saturday’s 4K race, placed sixth overall in both the 800- and 1,500-meter runs in the national meet.
Facing two types of events very different from one another, Phillips embraces the differences in the seasons for her. She echoed Burnstein’s assessment of the seasons’ mentalities, but acknowledged that it was impossible for her to pick which she enjoys more.
“I think middle distance is a ton of fun and just kicking that last 200 meters of a race is really fun, really exhilarating,” Phillips said. “But at the same time cross country is longer workouts, harder workouts, [and] it’s more team-centered.”
These runners, however, came to Wash. U. knowing they would be working year-round. Stiles, who has served as the cross country coach in 2001, took over the track and field head coaching reins before the 2008-09 school year.
A former year-round runner himself at North Central College, Stiles enjoys working with both of the squads.
“It’s more challenging to do two sports, but I think it’s also fun and exciting. You’re dealing with totally different dynamics of people and personality requirements,” Stiles said, referring to the differences between sprinters and distance runners.
And even though the events can vary drastically between seasons, all athletes know it’s important to train throughout the year, and Stiles believes his teams are no exception.
“They totally complement one another,” Stiles said of track and cross country. “All the best athletes in the world train year-round. You’re just accomplishing different things in different phases.”
The cross country teams are off this weekend and will be back in action on Friday, Sept. 16, for the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Cross Country Challenge.