By Mike Smith
2020 cross country is not what I wanted. Many reading this might think I’m referring to our performance at the Division 3 State Championships, losing to Monadnock by thirteen while coming in as the favorite. Or maybe that the individual returning champion having an off day and finishing second. But if that’s what you think, you would be mistaken.
Of course we wanted to win, we always want to win. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m actually proud of what the kids accomplished in the shortened season we had. They worked hard, and in the end we fell a mere thirteen points short. It turns out we ran pretty well, both on the boys side and the girls side. Any other year the girls would have been headed to Meet of Champions, having finished fifth, with their #2, #3 and #5 runners all freshmen.
Similarly, on the boys side, we put three in the top 10, four in the top 11, and my scoring five in the top 30, a score that would win most years. Unfortunately for the boys Monadnock had four in the top 10, five in the top 22.
No, the reason Cross Country 2020 was such a disappointment was that due to a number of circumstances, we strayed from the Mascenic way.
By saying it that way makes it sound drastic and that’s not really the way it was. When everyone went remote back in March 2020, just before the track season was to begin, I reached out to all my kids and let them know I was designing training for them with the hope that three weeks down the road we’d be able to get back at it. We all know how that went down.
Unfortunately our district took a hands off approach, with all the confusion around what we were dealing with not wishing to make any decisions or lock us into anything that might have to be retracted later.
The situation didn’t help any either. With no season to focus on, along with the current feeling to simply hole up and wait things out, many of the kids stepped away from their training, wishing things would get better. While I was finding more time to run, without the construct of practice with their teammates, getting their runs in was difficult. Missing a day turned into missing a few days, then missing a few weeks.
As the spring turned to summer and I started planning ways to engage my athletes, the district was still standing by the let’s wait and see approach, asking me to refrain from putting anything formal out there to the team. We still offered much of our usual summer programming, but I wasn’t aggressive about promoting it. Most of what we do stages out of the school property, and while we continued to host, everything was held virtually. We were there at our usual time, but athletes could participate virtually. Not the best scenario for sure.
Even as we slid into the season the district was still on the fence on how school was going to operate, putting athletics on the back burner. I had asked for a virtual meeting with the principal and superintendent regarding how I intended to conduct practice and meet all the CDC protocol such that I could bring a season for my kids. Even with this assurance it wasn’t until the beginning of September, we were given the green light to operate how I had proposed.
Distance running is a lot about consistency. How do you become good? While talent is nice, however consistency is key, and quite frankly we had been missing a lot of it. With the season shortened, it was going to be tough for us to get to where we should be, especially coming into the season under trained as well. Not that we were totally out of shape, but when you need to ramp up the training timeline, managing workout both volume and intensity are difficult. Let’s just say we weren’t running on all cylinders and had less time to get ready for the championships than normal.
And while our early season went well, as we came towards the end of the season due to a couple COVID cases in the district, we lost our last two home contests, losing the opportunity to sharpen our racing tactics and get the feel for racing other people. We used one of those lost opportunities to hold an intra-squad meet, which helped, but certainly isn’t the same as racing other competition.
And on race day, once the dust had settled, we were fifth and second, just short of the goals we had focused on prior to the 2020 season. Again, in a regular year, as the fifth team on the girls side, we would have been team bound to MOCs.
And could the boys have done something in those extra weeks lost to claw their way to the top? They did rebound the following week, finishing ninth and the top D3 team. But what I can say is we were a couple weeks from operating on all cylinders. We traditionally come on right at the end, a season of hard work coming to bear as we round the corner to championship season.
Monadnock certainly was going to be hard to beat. They were hungry and they were ready. But give us three more weeks and I would have liked our chances.
So without the restrictions of 2021 in place, I’ve been more proactive than I usually am with the upcoming season. This year I have a google classroom where I’m dispensing weekly information so I don’t have to talk about everything at the preseason meeting (or forget anything!) I’m able to have that preseason meeting I didn’t have last year to set the tone and go over the expectations for the upcoming season. I get to promote the summer running opportunities we offer and encourage athletes from all our sports to join us. And I get to engage them openly and regularly to help find the path to their best selves.
Will this mean we end up on the top of the pile? Not hardly. But it does mean we get to return to the Mascenic way, working together to bring out the best in each of us as an athlete. As a person. And with any luck, that puts us in the hunt.