The crack of the starting gun.
Warriors battling for position. Furious nonstop digging and dashing on all surfaces and all fronts. Flushed faces, drained bodies, lifeless legs at the finish line.
For GW’s cross country runners, the excitement of competing ends with this scene. They have no professional league, no highlights on ESPN, no national recognition. In fact, The GW Hatchet usually has little room to cover the sport.
So why do they run?
It’s a love of the sport that drives them. Training starts in the off-season for the Colonials. Second-year head coach Jim Hopkins guides his runners through exercises that keep them in shape and ready to go when the season starts in September.
Each athlete receives a workout schedule that dictates daily routines.
“Coach’s summer training schedule is made so that runners put in enough base mileage in the summer,” senior Jeff McCarthy said. That’s not runner’s jargon – base mileage is exactly what it sounds like. The runner must get some miles under his belt, with quantity stressed more than quality.
“The summer training is meant to prepare us for the hard workouts that take place during the season,” McCarthy said. “It is also important to have these schedules to work from, because we are not in direct contact with the coach. When you have a plan written for you, you look at the calendar and do what coach wrote down.”
Cross country is a year-round sport, so the men and women must practice almost every day. Hopkins employs a schedule in which the athletes work Monday through Sunday, some days harder then others.
On Sunday, typically the day of rest, Hopkins demands work.
“We usually have the guys run for about one hour and 45 minutes,” Hopkins said. “The women run for about an hour.”
Monday is an easier day. The Colonials run at a good clip for about five miles, but not at race speed. Wednesday is an off-day, while Thursday is reserved for hills at Battery Kimball Park. Friday is for recovery – men run six and a half minute miles and women run eight-minute miles.
Saturday is usually race day. And if it happens not to be, there’s another intensive workout.
The actual schedule is not written on paper, and it’s often subject to change.
“We’re always training for the next meet,” Hopkins said. “Things change. One workout will set up another.”
The runners work hard in the weight room as well.
“Most of the work we do consists of high repetitions (12-15),” McCarthy said. “I think that sort of weight work is important to running because you really use all your muscles, and you want to have the most stamina.”
“In cross country, strength is much more important than mass,” senior Tim Assal said.
Beyond the weight room, an athlete must eat well and get the proper amount of sleep. There’s no mystery to it. If the athletes throw back Big Macs, Twinkies and Oreos, their times will suffer. Proper sleep and eating habits all are part of getting their bodies into a rhythm, Hopkins said.
These things combined mean a collegiate runner must be self-disciplined.
“Discipline is a large part of any sport,” McCarthy said. “And when you make the jump to collegiate sports, you must become more disciplined in the way you manage your time.
“Running takes a lot out of me. Almost every night I’m tired and eager to go to sleep,” he said. “But I’m a student, so I have to keep up on my work.”
“I think to be a good runner, it’s got to be part of a lifestyle,” Hopkins said. “And if you don’t take care of your body, it breaks down. To be a good runner, you’ve got to have your life under control.”
The GW men’s and women’s cross country teams will compete in the Atlantic 10 Championships in Philadelphia this weekend.
In the A-10 coaches’ poll taken after the weekend of Oct. 16, the women’s team was in a tie for sixth with Fordham. The men’s team was ranked seventh out of the A-10’s 11 cross country teams.
On the women’s side, La Salle and Massachusetts were ranked in a tie for first, while Virginia Tech was ranked first on the men’s side.