MANSFIELD — The excitement that comes with starting a cross country season is long over. The thrill of competing in the conference and district meets is still a few weeks away.
The pop of adrenaline a runner gets from competing against Ohio’s top runners at the state’s biggest in-season meet in Tiffin and the jolt that comes from racing in Galion on one of the fastest courses against some of the best runners — those things are in the past, too.
Cross country officially reached the toughest point of the season. It’s where the practices intensify, but the meets don’t mean as much.
“The next three weeks is still pretty heavy training,” Lexington coach Denise Benson said after the girls won the Galion Cross Country Festival two weeks ago. “We’ll go into conference being tired, and then that last macrocycle I’ll freshen up their legs at that time. They’re running this tired.”
Mount Gilead coach Denny West has guided a multitude of runners and teams to the state meet in his 23-year tenure. He knows what it takes to get a team through this lull in the season.
“Workouts,” West said. “We tell the kids and they know it. We’re after higher levels of training. Don’t let this be your best day. When it gets to the postseason, let’s go after the hard-earned awards that you’ve worked to do.”
Galion’s Chris McElligott is a senior who is coming off a state appearance from a year ago. He understands that this is no time to throttle back even though little is at stake.
“Honestly I’ll be doing the same things until the week before regionals, the same mileage and everything,” he said. “At the regional is where I’ll be actually tapering to get to state. I know what I need to do to get there, so that obviously helps.”
Cross country is a layered sport. One workout builds on another. Mileage gained during off-season workouts pays off in late fall as the lungs expand and the legs strengthen. Plus, it’s year upon year.
“These kids have been together since seventh grade so it’s a building process,” Colonel Crawford coach Jody Grove said of her boys team that is hoping to return to regionals this year. “They’re seniors now, so it’s been a long process and that’s the sport of cross country. Sometimes you’re a flash in the pan the first year, and sometimes it takes a while to get there. Experience has a lot to do with it and how many years they’ve put in and the miles.”
It’s also about confidence. But that’s hard to keep at this time of the year because coaches are training their kids harder in order to get them ready for the rigors of racing in their conference meets and the postseason. That means the clock isn’t as friendly as times get slower at meets like the Bill Brown Invitational in Ontario, the Denny Stevens Invitational in Fredericktown or the Cat Pack Invitational in Mansfield.
“Ninety-nine percent of it is mental,” Bucyrus coach Carl Rittenour said of his boys team that is trying to go back to regionals this year despite losing top runners’ Nate Jackson and Gabe Dawson from a year ago. “We almost had five guys under 18 minutes at the county (meet in Galion) and that’s our goal. They want to do it by the league, and I said that’s the place to do it.
“Right now they’ve got to keep that mental attitude and finish the year and finish strong.”
Some runners are fueled by long term goals and know the hard work will pay off eventually.
Ontario sophomore Brett Cortelletti wants to break the school record that’s below 16 minutes sometime before the end of his career. Right now his personal record is 16:44. But along with the record, there’s always a regional berth and a potential state run on which to focus.
“I’ve still got a little while to go,” Cortelletti said. “It’s going to take a 16:20 and a big drop (to get to the regional). As the years go on and more seniors graduate and I become faster, my chances become bigger.”
No one knows this point of the season better than Crestview senior Emily Trent, a three-time All-Ohioan.
“It’s where you need to push through the most — the workouts and the races,” she said.
It’s all about getting through these next couple of weeks for everyone that runs 5ks in the grass.