Training system sets up Men's Cross Country for success
Nov. 20, 2011
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas - On some level, the Texas Men’s Cross Country team exists in a state of paradise. Most days begin for the Longhorns before dawn, and then the sun rises over them as they click and churn their feet through the fresh morning dew on the fairways of an East Austin golf course.
Never mind the searing lungs, the cramping quads or the mind that’s begging to quit, walk and breathe easy.
Shoulder to shoulder, stride for stride, the Longhorns have trained together since August with their focus solely on the race that’s before them on Monday – the NCAA Championships.
“You go out there and race and you’re working really hard and it hurts and everything, but we’ve done much harder things in practice,” junior Rory Tunningley said. “The work’s been done and we know we’re ready.”
The 10K race in Terre Haute, Indiana, is the longest run during the cross country season, and one the Longhorns are uniquely qualified to master. Building general fitness with half-marathon threshold runs, and then turnover and toughness, with vicious mile repeats, the Longhorns have been training for endurance since August.
“Our system is a bunch of workouts that make you hurt, but it’s more of a cumulative build over the season,” said freshman Craig Lutz, who finished third individually in the NCAA South Central Regional. “There isn’t a day where you feel like you’ll burn out before the end of the season. It always just feels like we’re getting stronger. When you finish a workout, you want to feel like you worked really hard, but also feel fresh.”
This is all the design of distance guru John Hayes. He majored in statistics in college, so Hayes has a numerical reason behind every demand. Hayes has a spreadsheet that shows, since 2007, the average time of each team, and the point they received in the national meet.
Hayes can plug one of his runner’s times into those meets and then say, “Run this average time and this is where you would finish.’ He also spends time getting to know each of his runners, so he has clear understanding of their limits.
“I’m a travel agent, a psychologist, a driver,” Hayes said. “Keeping the team in the right mindset is really important.”
The national championships race is a beast all its own. With a pack of more than 200 runners competing for seconds and space on a grassy course of rolling hills and a straightaway finish, these 10,000 meters will require just as much of the mind as the cardiovascular system.
“When you get in cross country, a few minutes into the race you’re usually not feeling that good. So it’s a different kind of pain, and the type of guy that excels in cross country may not excel in track. You have to be tough, you have to be able to deal with that,” Hayes said.
And that’s partly why Hayes has his runners race in packs of three to five. When the going gets tough, it’s recharging to look to your left and right and see faces you’ve trained with all season.
Equally, a block of burnt orange blowing by can be just as demoralizing to the competition.
“Individual goals are all on our shoulders, as long as we’re running for the team,” Lutz said. “The team is first, the individual is second.”
A live webcast of the championships tomorrow will occur from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on NCAA.com.