Winning five straight state championships must be serious business.
For the Dowling Catholic girls’ cross country team, the search for No. 6 includes a trip to the Rockies and a scavenger hunt at the Iowa State Fair.
When did running turn into such a good time?
“Nobody wants to be the group to end this streak, so I think they’re able to keep it pretty fresh and have avoided the sense that this is easy,” Dowling coach Fr. Jim Kirby said. “But they tell me when they sense things are too tight and they need to have some fun things. It keeps them motivated.”
For some teams with the highest expectations, those types of distractions have helped in keeping running fun in the summer.
Dowling’s boys’ and girls’ teams attended a week-long YMCA camp in Estes Park, Colo., for hiking, elevation training and team-building.
The girls’ team returns five varsity runners from a season ago.
“It’s a great thing for unity and the beautiful scenery is hard to knock,” Kirby said. “But all the girls know that just because you show up in Fort Dodge doesn’t mean they hand you trophies. Trophies are won in the summer time.”
Monticello’s boys’ cross country team stays close together in races and during practice.
The defending Class 2-A champions placed their top five runners in times between 16 minutes and 17 minutes at the state meet a season ago, and return all of them.
“Our primary focus is not to get too caught up in the hype that’s been put on our team and our guys know if they stay focused on training that success will come,” Monticello coach Dan Sauser said.
During a summer filled with evening team runs and morning workouts, Sauser keeps his cross country athletes from racing one another. Staying together has been a successful policy.
“Running by yourself can be monotonous, so we try to mix up the workouts and keep it fresh and always give the kids someone to run with,” Sauser said.
The Panthers are hoping to place their top five runners under 16:30 by the end of the season.
West Des Moines Valley runner Ben Anderson feels similar championship expectations.
The senior is Class 4-A’s defending champion and knows opponents will be trying to get around him at every meet.
Anderson has set ambitious goals for the fall season — including a finish in less than 14:30 — but he knows having fun out on long summer runs can be difficult.
“It’s really hard sometimes, so you have to just keep pushing yourself and telling yourself you can do it and always have your goals in your mind,” Anderson said.
Not all of his motivations for 6 a.m. runs are self-driven.
“I really wouldn’t be wanting to get yelled at by my coach,” Anderson said. “A lot of people look up to me at practice and I don’t want to let them down.”
Competition for boys and girls begins Monday across the state.