August 3, 2016 – End of ‘Summer Running’ Review
Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote a blog in which I stated the following:
In less than two weeks, we’ll all be back at school, books stuffed into backpacks, assignments begrudgingly sketched into crisp new student planners, the carefree days of summer no more than distant memories. Actually, though, for a runner, the summer (or any season really) can never truly be carefree, as every new days brings a new workout to manage, and those precious unscheduled hours often include rolling out or ice cupping. The transition to the school year is thus sometimes easier to manage for us, especially as it brings the promise of the official cross country season, and thus the beginning of meets we’ve been working towards for months. Like any transitional period, now is a good time to reflect on where we’ve come from and look ahead to where we hope to be.
As self-appointed team statistician, I proceeded to share ‘the data’ on our summer training, as I will shortly do again here. As HCXC alums know, in 2012 we initiated the ‘1000 mile challenge’ in an effort to incentivize better training, a solid aerobic base being a prerequisite to late season success. The aim is to run over 1000 miles between the first day of summer running and our Conference meet. Of the hundreds of athletes who’ve been through our program over the past half-decade (the most successful period in the history of our program) only a handful dhave achieved this distinction. They are:
*All seniors unless otherwise noted
2012: Chris Kennedy, Jack Keller, Ryan Somerfield, Ankit Aggarwal, Emmett Scully (jr)
2013: Emmett Scully, Kevin Huang, Aria Darbandi, Billy Magnesen, Josh Feldman (jr), Andrew Irvine (so), Matt McBrien (jr)
2014: Matt McBrien, Josh Feldman, Stefan Rosas, Alex Lambert
2015: Blake Evertsen (jr.), Chris Brenk , Andrew Irvine, John Bynan (jr.), Ryan Doorhy (jr.), Nicky Midlash (jr.), Nathan Hill
One way to quickly compare our team this year to past seasons is to consider July mileage. I have compiled averages for most athletes dating back to 2012. Here is the top 30 from 2012-2016
To be on pace for joining the 1000 mile club in 2016, a runner should have logged 392 miles by this point. As you will see, we have 5 athletes currently ahead of pace, with 5 more not far off. Current mileage is below for the 10 athletes with the highest summer mileage at this point in the season. For basis of comparison, I have also included their mileage from previous seasons, when that information was available.
Our final few days of summer running were spent, as they have been the previous three seasons, in Kenosha, where we stay on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside to take advantage of the solitude as well as the nationally-renowned Cross Country course and attendant monster hill. This year, the mini-camp featured a guest speaker, Don Kopriva, a journalist (for several decades he has been a correspondent for Track and Field News) and author, most recently of the book ‘Coming Back Strong’ which features interviews with 75 of our nation’s most accomplished male distance runners on how they dealt with injuries. In discussing the book, Don recalled a conversation with a coach he encountered while selling his book at the annual ITCCCA clinic:
Random Coach: “Oh, I don’t need that book. My guys don’t get injured.”
Kopriva: “You’re not a very good coach, then.”
His point was that, in our sport, those who want to be the best are always walking the proverbial ‘razor’s edge’ between excellence and injury. No runner who stays in the game long enough will walk away unscathed.
A related topic discussed in Kenosha was “Grit.” I’ve recently finished the book with that title by the psychologist Angela Duckworth and was eager to share what I learned with the assembled crew. In short, what Duckworth discovered is that the best predictor of who will be able to regularly accomplish truly difficult tasks in not physical ability nor intelligence but rather, simply, a ‘never-give up’ attitude. It’s not the person who never gets knocked down but the person who, every time they do get knocked down, gets right back and keeps fighting.
The connection here is that getting injured is the most difficult test any committed runner will face (far more, I think, than regular training and racing). The successful individual and team will be the one that has the mental fortitude to keep going through the isolating periods of cross-training that injuries force. And, like every previous season, we face that. We’ll see how we manage. Of Steven Zaher and John Bynan, two of our athletes dealing with injury right now, I can say that two grittier individuals would be hard to find. If any two runners can endure the drudgery of cross-training, it is they. As for the tests we’ve faced collectively, our grittiness is yet to be determined. What identity will the 2016 team assume? That’s why we run the races…
-I am excited about our incoming freshmen. And a special shout-out goes to Coach Josh Vance and his Westview Middle School team, the source of two of our top incoming freshmen and many other younger athletes who joined us this summer. Aaron Lu and Chinmay Amin, a duo I last year dubbed “Chindia” (referencing both their respective ethnic backgrounds, Chinese and Indian, and the projected future dominance of that region in world economics and of these two young runners within our state) have run 3200 times this summer that rank among the fastest anyone in our program has ever run at their age. Will Fahey, a freshman who moved with his family to Hinsdale from Arizona, looks like a young Josh Feldman. Carter McCarroll ‘bought in’ to Cross Country within one month of joining us, and has become our most consistent freshmen on logarun. Emmett Drew, younger brother of alum Patrick, is excited to make a name for himself. Will Rakos is eager to mix it up. Danny Hoffman, Tom Borys, Lorenzo Jennings, Mason Steere, and Lincoln Virant all put in quality summers and should help us have one of our stronger freshmen squads in many years.
-The Sophomores, likewise, are looking strong. We received a huge boost in June when we learned Keegan Caveney had decided to ‘make the leap’ from soccer to Cross Country. Keegan, who first joined us last Track season, comes from a running family (his older brother TJ was all-state for us on our 2013 championship team, his older sister is one of best runners on a strong girls’ team, and his father Andy ran for HC in the mid-80s). His addition solidifies a squad featuring Alec Hill, Matt Kusak, Fletcher Spillers, Brandon Belgrad, Bradley Davis, Anshul Sankaran, Chris Deligiannis, Charlie Carter, Josh Terry, Jack Gerami, Matt Sayre, and newcomer James Giltner. Watch out for Bradley Davis, who had the most consistent summer of any Sophomore (and who brought younger brother Mitchell with him) and who will no doubt be on the PR train this fall.
-This summer I also initiated the first ever HC Boy’s Summer Track camp. We had 12 high school athletes who came for three weeks, along with 18 middle schoolers who participated for one. Anthony Carta, Colin Jay, Alex Ritz, and Jimmy McKay emerged from the camp as senior leaders, while the hurdle crew represented particularly well, with Jay, Ritz, Colin Chval, and newcomer Andrew Novotney getting in some key technical work. The highlight of the camp was our first ever summer Community track meet held on July 15. I invited alumni back for the event, so many were on hand to witness the festivities, including one Ted Owens, a star on our 2011 team who I hadn’t seen in a few years. Owens recently graduated from Dartmouth and just moved to San Francisco to start a new job doing coding. Owens led off our last 4*800 team to make finals. One of his teammates, Jack Feldman, could not be in attendance, but emailed me earlier in the week to say hello. Jack just started a job in Princeton, New Jersey at Bristol-Meyers-Squib. Amazing to think these guys are college graduates. Jack’s younger brother Josh was on hand, and participated in an unlikely event: the 110 hurdles (he dabbled in steeple chasing this past spring). Doube-G Griffin Gartner doubled up by running both the open 400 and the 4*400. Maxie Maydanchik showed he still has it outkicking Ryan Doorhy to win the 800 in a very respectable 2:08.
Moving the other direction in age, we also witnessed the Track meet debut of the young Belgrad twins, age 5. Both boys raced each other in the 60 meter mini-hurdles and later in the ‘toddler 20.’ One decade hence, they’ll be at HC, where I hope and expect to still be. Jacob and Brandon will be the alumni then, adding length to the growing ‘red line.’
-Thanks to the initiative taken by Neuqua Valley head XC coach Paul Vandersteen, our summer started off with a speech from Donn Behnke, former coach of Stevens Point (WI) high school and author of the recent (excellent) book “The Animal Keepers.” Coach Behnke shared the story of his 1985 team, a special one due to the arrival of Scott “the animal” Longley, a student living in a group home who made up for his lack of social awareness with his fierce competitiveness and love of team. Coach Behnke’s speech reminded us what makes Cross Country such a unique sport – by joining the team and meeting its physical demands, Scott found a sense of belonging he’d never had before; in turn, he helped his teammates achieve at a level they’d not have been able to accomplish without him.
On a personal level, Behnke’s book, as well as his speech, hit close to home. He referred to the 1985 season as the one in which he transitioned from “Coach as big brother to Coach as parent.” I find myself in a similar transition. Gone are the days when I could lead every workout; gone, also, the hours of time to devote to writing blogs. In its place, a newly earned maturity that comes with being directly responsible for another individuals’ life and well-being. The fact of the matter is that my relationship with our current runners will likely be different than the one I have with Billy Fayette, Zach Withall, and others of their era. I hope, though, to help each runner realize their own individual potential, the same hope I share for my daughter.
-And speaking of Neuqua Valley, a recent national ranking released by tullyrunners.com (using some kind of complex algorithm) ranks them as the #1 team in the country (we are, surprisingly, ranked #26). With all the usual caveats about the futility and meaninglessness of pre-season rankings, I can say this with absolute certainty: Neuqua Valley will have a great team this year, as they always do. And we get to face off against them at our first invitational of the season, the hallowed “Hornet-Red Devil Invitational” on September 3, exactly one month from today. Let the games begin!