Summer provides a different set of challenges than the fall season for cross country runners, and local teams have been hard at work to make sure they’ve made good use of these offseason months.
Quintin Miles, a rising senior at North Hall, ran 722 miles last summer and is hoping to finish with a similar number this summer. He said it’s all about building mental toughness that comes in handy during the cross country and track seasons.
“You know you can do it,” said Miles, who was third at the Class AAA state cross country meet and fourth in the 3200 meters in track. “But you’re also kind of doubting yourself.”
Jenna Gearing, a rising junior at White County, has won two AAA state cross country titles and also collected 1600 and 3200 track championships in the spring. She didn’t train much last summer but is trying to focus more on cross country and track this summer. She also plays basketball and soccer for the Lady Warriors. It’s a balancing act, especially with the sprinting involved in basketball quite a different element than her distance running.
Gearing said she and her teammates haven’t competed in any races this summer.
“We’re kind of saving it,” Gearing said.
Johnson High coach Lauren Carter said her program has averaged 35 runners per day after having no summer program two years ago. She likes to take the group on day trips and has the Knights taking part in a summer race series in Athens.
Johnson rising junior Junior Suarez, the 2013 Region 8-AAAA champ, earned the victory at the Athens Summer Series North Oconee High School 3K this week in Bogart with a time of 10:11.51.
Even though it wasn’t the same as a meet during the school season, Suarez embraced one of the few races of summer in preparation for the tough competition of Region 8-AAAA.
“That’ll help me get my competition back,” Suarez said. “I went all out on the race because I wanted to tell everybody that I’m ready for next season.”
Carter is looking forward to seeing what Suarez can continue to do. But the summer has also been about getting experience for other runners who had never been in a race.
“It’s a good warmup for them before the season starts,” Carter said.
Both Gearing and Carter said variety is a theme in training this time of year compared with in-season running.
“In the summer we get different trails and different spots every day,” Gearing said.
Carter said some of her runners will start by being able to run for just 10-15 minutes and end the summer by running up to 12 miles. They build up slowly each week with an eye toward being in shape to avoid injuries when the fall season rolls around. She said the summer is about building a foundation with sizable numbers of miles so that speed can take centerstage during the season.
Carter has incorporated team meals into the Knights’ trips and focus on building team chemistry.
“We’re trying to keep it fun so they don’t view running as a negative thing,” Carter said. “We have fun and we hang out together.”
Not having races on the horizon helps Gearing in her summer workouts.
“I’m not as stressed,” Gearing said. “But I still think about the season and all the competition coming.”
She said it’s important to log numerous miles, going as many as 12 miles at a time, but also not do too much and get hurt.
Miles said he and his teammates’ runs can be as long as 20 miles in the summer, though clearly not at the same pace as during the year.
Carter’s team has practiced at Unicoi State Park in Helen, where the Region 7-AAA meet is, as have Gearing and White County. Fridays in Helen are a favorite part of summer training for Gearing.
“The hills, they’re tough,” Gearing said. “But for some reason I like the hills.”
Miles said he keeps track of all the miles he runs and “it’s just satisfying to look back at that” when he hits the kind of numbers he did last summer.
And for Miles, one of the best parts is the post-run celebration he and his teammates sometimes have. To cool down after some of their longer runs, they’ll head a couple miles down the road from North Hall to a waterfall and jump in.
Once the high mileage totals and endurance of summer are complete, then come the big races.
“When the season starts, that’s when we use that stuff,” Suarez said.