Long-distance runners sacrifice comfort for success

By Julia Karcewski
Round Table reporter

As the moon lights the early Saturday morning sky, there is virtually no activity in Wolfsville, except in Katie Bussard’s room, where her “Latin Fever” ringtone is chiming that its 5:30 a.m., time for her to leave the comfort of her bed.  Bussard has one hour to prepare for her meet at Smithsburg, on the toughest course she’ll run all year. She takes a quick shower, being sure to wake up and warm up her muscles. Bussard puts on her Under Armor to prepare for the rainy and 49-degree weather that she’ll be experiencing today. Packing her spikes, sweats, and PowerBars, Bussard zips up her book bag and runs downstairs to scarf down the eggs her mom has made.  She hops in the car and heads to Middletown High School to meet the bus. Bussard tries not to think about all of her other friends who are still sleeping, toasty beneath the covers of their beds.

Bussard, a junior at MHS, is a long-distance runner, a unique breed that requires dedication that goes above and beyond that of many other sports.  Training to be a long-distance runner is a commitment to hard work, every day, all year.

Although some say a meet is “only” three miles, they do not realize how much more dedication and strength is needed to compete in and complete the race. It all comes down to the mind, pushing the body to the limit in order to stay in the race.

Bussard’s pre-race routine is consistent and as disciplined as her workouts.  “I eat an excess amount of carbs and stretch the night before and, of course, stretch a lot the day of the meet,” she says.  “I always have my Ipod to get me in the ‘zone.’”

The thoughts going through each runner’s brain prior to a race differ according to their skill level, or what they plan to accomplish on that certain day. Each runner may have a different goal each meet, based on how tough the course is, or how prepared the body is.

“Before the gun goes off,” Bussard says, “I decide which girls I have to stick with and who I can beat, but while running, I usually have a song stuck in my head or I try to focus on where in the course I need to speed up or slow down.”

However, the 24 hours leading up to a meet isn’t the only time to prepare. The other six days of the week are used to train and keep in shape, staying focused on cutting time off previous records.

A typical week of MHS cross country practice consists of running about 20 miles – split up Monday through Friday – including long distance, a track workout, body conditioning, a swim workout, and endurance workouts.

“Long distance is without doubt really difficult, especially when we’re outdoors in the grass, because of the hills,” said Maria Skowronski, a sophomore at MHS. “It’s hard to stay dedicated then, but I love pushing myself and its nice to know that the rest of my teammates are backing me up and that we’re all in the same boat with our ache during the race.”

Once the seasons switch from cross country to indoor track and then to outdoor track in the spring, the workouts don’t stop.

When indoor and outdoor start, there are more sprinters than long distance, so the workouts are altered. The coaches concentrate on abs and pushups to help improve the core because a better core makes a better runner. The runners are split up at practice according to the events they run, so each can concentrate on their specific needs.

Although the pain may drive many away from the sport of cross country, it’s the feeling of accomplishment that keeps these athletes devoted.

“My friends help me to stay dedicated, because it’s not only about staying in shape for soccer, but there’s definitely a social part which makes running more fun,” said MHS junior Kelsey Owens, a member of the cross country, indoor, and outdoor track teams.

The MHS indoor track team won states in 2008, and to many that is reason enough to stay committed. How hard the team trains and cultivates reflects on its overall performance, ultimately determining if there will be a chance to win states.

During each individual race, however, the only goal in mind is to cross the finish line. Most know they’ve tried their hardest when they’re in complete pain or on the verge of tears – and have an indescribable sense of relief when it’s over.

Adam Nelson, a sophomore at MHS and a member of the cross country team says, “When there’s 400 meters left, I push myself harder than I have the whole race. I can’t feel my legs and my body feels numb. If I don’t think I’m pushing hard enough, I remind myself that there’s a cold cup of water waiting for me at the finish line.”

To non-runners, it may not be as evident that long-distance running requires a mental commitment as well as a physical commitment, but runners know that aspect of the game is clearly a key factor to excelling.

“I mainly do cross country to stay in shape,” Bussard says, “but I like it because it really tests your mental and physical ability more than any other sport. You can only rely on yourself, rather than other sports where you must rely on others as well. You decide how far your limit is, no one else.”