One of the greatest things about running is that during races you are solely responsible for your performance. Once the gun goes off there is nobody but yourself who can control how you finish. This sense of responsibility for oneself is one of many things that makes me love running. At the end of the race there is nobody we, as runners, can point to as the reason we didn't accomplish the goals we set out to achieve. However, for example, the sixteen or so minutes that I was on the course at St. Olaf last fall for the State meet was an insignificant amount of time compared to was the culmination of months of preparation that were entirely dependent on the support and help of many different people. Superficially, running appears to be an individual sport, however the way the sport is set up only allows spectators to see each athlete performing as individuals. Although perhaps not in the conventional sense of the phrase, running is undoubtedly a team sport and it absolutely 'takes a village' to prepare myself, and all runners for competition.
In order to explain the reasons I believe so strongly that running is a team sport, I feel that I can best illustrate my logic by tracing the events that occur between the end of the school year and the championship cross country season (June-November), and highlighting all of the people who facilitate my team and my own success. I hope to illustrate that every individual runner has their own team of people that help them achieve their goals, and the combined efforts of these people are critical to the success of the athlete. These are the people who were instrumental in assisting me achieve my goals over the past two years.
(Coach Docherty and I after the 3200m at state 2017)
At the end of every spring I collaborate with both my cross country and track coaches to put together a plan for the summer. This usually consists of meeting up on my coaches free time to sit down, discuss our goals for next year, and formulate a weekly training plan to follow. After finishing track season each year I sit down with my fantastic track coach, Beverly Docherty, and after telling her about my goals for the coming fall we come up with a general structure for each week. We then take this outline and compile it with the detailed notes my cross country coach, Daniel Ethier, always sends me. This entire process was not something that the coaches at my school are obligated to do, and despite having some experience of my own, if I had entered my summers of training alone and without their assistance I would find myself miles behind where I could potentially be once competitions get underway.
Coach Docherty and Ethier are the first two people who I know are always in my corner and they are the foundation that supports my ability to succeed. Although many of the workouts I do over the summer are by myself, it would be a blatant lie and a disservice to my fantastic coaches to pretend that I could make any significant progress without their guidance.
(Matthew Bourne and I after track sections 2016)
After finalizing a training plan for my summer and taking a week of recovery I begin to start my workouts. Sundays are distance runs ranging from 10-18 miles, Monday recovery, Tuesday tempo, Wednesday recovery, Thursday intervals of sorts, and Friday and Saturday are recovery. However, even with the genuine love I have for running, at times I found it increasingly difficult to wake up early on my hard days and do challenging workouts ranging from 1500m threshold intervals to 16x200 meter repeats. Thankfully I was able to draw on another member of my team, my running partner, Matthew. I wake Matthew up as early as 6:00 AM over the summer and he would always faithfully meet me at the Mounds Park Academy track for workouts that I could not have motivated myself to do had he not been there to support me. Having a friend with me, knowing that we were both pushing ourselves as hard as we could was a liberating feeling for me and it further tarnished the idea that running was an individual sport. Matthew's commitment to supporting and running with me throughout the summers are invaluable because he kept me driven to push myself each lap around the track and he has continuously proved himself to be a vital part of my team.
My relationship with Matthew is not unique to the two of us. Even the most dedicated and committed runners cannot spend their days training alone and expect to make as much progress as another runner who has the support of a friend. In every practice I have been to in my five years of running I can clearly see that every member of our team never runs alone. Whether they find another person, or a group of people to run with, everybody understands that to go it alone is to sacrifice our ability to succeed. Whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, the connection and reliance we have on our teammates is the basis for any forms of success that we encounter.
(Left: MPA CC team preparing to start 1500m intervals; Right: Coaches Nagle, Sullivan, Bander, and Ethier)
Coaches Part 2:
Apart from my daily runs with (and without) Matthew, throughout the summer Coach Ethier continuously played an active role in pushing me to become the best that I could be. Taking time out of his own schedule, Coach Ethier organized weekly practices (apart from on MSHSL no contact weeks) to do hill repeats on our section course. Having the whole team together at various points over the summer further reinforced the idea that nobody was training alone, and after 6 days of hard training it was a relief to have a day where I could benefit from the support of all of my teammates and see how hard each of them work as well, and in retrospect it was a critical part to my weekly training cycle that brought me to the point where I was ready to compete at the top level in high school running. I can definitively say that had I trained as an individual without the support and commitment of my team and coach, then I would not have been nearly as well prepared to achieve the goals I had in mind.
As the official school practices get underway in August, Coach Ethier further demonstrates his critical role as a part of my team. As accomplished as he is as a cross country coach, his abilities as an administrator are equally as impressive. For every interval workout we do Coach Ethier prepares goal times for everybody based on past performances and expected improvements, documents actual times and tracks progress, and gives detailed instructions on the purpose and function of each workout. During race weeks every runner receives a personalized race plan with a strategy, goal, and other helpful advice. Drawing on data from other teams and past results, Coach Ethier spends hugely significant amounts of his own time ensuring that every racer is prepared and set up to succeed.
Our three assistant coaches (Hannah Sullivan, Courtney Nagle, and Nate Bander) play a similar role and contribute heavily to each runner's success over the course of the season. From ensuring that every runner has water accessible to them by biking along with us during long runs to making sure every runner is at the start line in time, our assistant coaches form another indispensable pillar of our team. Their devotion and generous donation of time are further examples of how we as athletes cannot successfully compete as individuals.
The last, and perhaps most important members of a runner's team is their family. Most every high school runner is reliant on their parents as their 'personal sponsors', footing the bill for school tuition, athletic programs, shoes, apparel, etc. Apart from the financial side, our families comprise the most significant portion of every crowd at races. Parents adjust schedules to ensure that they can see their children compete and sacrifice time and energy to ensure that their children are equipped with everything they need to succeed.
In my particular case my family have been nothing but supportive of my running career. The week prior to last fall's State Cross Country Championships comes to mind as the perfect example of how important my family is to my achievements. My mom, who was sick at the time, wore a flu mask around the house for two weeks leading up to the race to ensure that I would be healthy to race. She would cook everything with gloves on and her meticulous care in everything she did was a perfect representation of her unwavering support that I am entirely dependent on. My dad planned every minute leading up to the race according to how I wanted it to go to ensure that I arrived at the start line stress free and ready to go. My sister took time out of her busy schedule to fly home for the weekend from college to come and watch me race and she was the first person I saw after I finished, while my brother Skyped in from Boston to watch.
Behind almost every strong runner I know is a supportive family and their contributions are absolutely essential to being able to achieve the goals that we set out to meet. I can personally attest to the necessity of having a supportive team consisting of coaches, teammates, and family and I fully attribute all success that I have had and will have in the future to all of the members of my team around me. I have had the privilege to never run a race where I have really been alone.
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