Rob Connor was one of my earliest mentors and it’s been fun watching him lead his Portland Pilots to the top of the NCAA XC world over the past 20+ years. I read this earlier in the fall when the XC season just started and I think there’s so much wisdom to it…thanks to Jonathan Marcus for another great piece of writing.
88 Days to Nationals — Grape Crush Chronicles
Many times, the first workout together when a college cross country team returns from summer vacation ends up being one of the hardest of the year.
Guys try to impress the coach and their teammates with newly earned fitness and often hammer that initial session.
But not so with the Pilots.
R.C. knows better.
His final instructions to the Portland harriers before the day’s workout commences echoes this.
“Hey guys,” he says, “I know you’re fit. No need to run hard and impress anyone today. Save your best efforts for the end of the season, not the beginning.”
Today, coach wants his runners to exercise control over the handful of mile repeats with short rest on the West Moreland Park grass loop.
Provided health is maintained, each guy is projected to run roughly 1,000 miles between now and the National Meet on November 17th. With so much ground left to be covered “who cares about a handful of mile repeats in late August?” R.C. inquires rhetorically after the team set off on their first mile.
“I’ve learned,” he continues, “it is a long road to the National Meet. Back in the day, I used to love seeing everyone blast the first workout of the season, but not anymore. Those days are over. More than anything, I hate seeing a guy get hurt and missing out on practice and running with the team.”
In R.C.’s eyes, running together as a team day in and day out, all season long is the core of the collegiate cross country experience, and not to be sacrificed.
If being reckless, undisciplined and sloppy early on risks that opportunity and comprises the student-athlete’s experience, then R.C. feels the kid, and the team, is poorer for it.
And if you think about it — he’s right.
Most collegiate harriers only compete in 3 – 5 races a season. Meaning, only 5% of the season calendar is spent racing. Races provide the most exciting impressions, but are not what many remember dearest.
Where the real memories are made, bonds strengthened, and camaraderie with peers built are on the plethora of daily runs, long runs, and workouts which constitute the other 95% of days in a cross country season. And to R.C. it doesn’t seem prudent to jeopardize such by running too intense at the season’s onset.
Before the final rep R.C. advises, “Hey guys. Don’t go any faster. Take it easy. Run together. OK? Don’t want to see anyone get dropped. You all look great today.”
As the Pilots round the bend to finish up their final 1 Mile rep, faces are slack, a few are even smiling, and the pack is tightly bunched. You couldn’t tell whether it was the first or final rep, they had heeded their coach’s counsel.
“Man, those guys look easy,” notes R.C.
“What was the time on the last one?” He asks assistant coach Jack Mullaney.
“Fifteen seconds faster than any previous one,” replies Jack.
“Geez. Are you serious? It didn’t look like it. Good for them,” R.C. enthusiastically responds. “I’m impressed.”