Early mornings pose no problem for Muskie runners

Dan Falloon

Running in the dark has become a part of life for those involved with the Fort High cross-country team.
Team members and coaches are out at 6 a.m. on Mondays. And while most teens might be surprised to learn that 6 a.m. exists, there’s little grumbling among the runners.
“It’s actually worked out well for us,” enthused Natasha Shack, who coaches the team along with Kendall Richardson and John Dutton.
“I think the students like to get it over in the morning, for a couple reasons,” she noted.
“It builds team spirit when they have to meet at 6 a.m. It’s like they’re all in this together.
“They just come out and they feel that they’ve accomplished more because they’ve done it at 6 a.m.,” she reasoned.
As well, with some older students holding down part-time jobs, the early session helps students avoid at least one conflict per week.
“It also helps for students who work after school,” stressed Shack. “We can compensate by saying ‘There’s a 6 a.m. practice and then Tuesday after school and Thursday after school.’
“Sometimes hitting three after-school practices is hard for students, especially in the senior level grades.”
In terms of numbers, the Muskie cross-country team has seen a total of nine students out since practices began Sept. 7.
“That’s the usual number for us,” Shack said. “[But] this year, we seemed to have more students committed right at the beginning of the season.
“We have a lot of Grade 9s and a new Grade 10 out, so that’s pretty exciting for the team as a whole to have some new faces on the team,” she noted.
“The Grade 9 Midget boys are looking pretty strong,” Shack added. “They’ve been practising strong and are really committed to it so far.”
The season officially kicks off in Kenora next Wednesday (Sept. 29). The squad then hopes to compete at a meet in Dryden in early October, although no plans are official.
The pinnacle is the regional meet in Thunder Bay, which is scheduled for Oct. 20.
Between now and then, Shack said the students are going to need to work on “speed and confidence. To boost those traits, the team has started to work on a workout called the “Yasso 800.”
The workout is an interval training program designed by “Runner’s World” editor Bart Yasso. Athletes run for 800 metres and then jog for an equal amount of time.
The idea is that times achieved in the 800 metres can predict times over longer distances, including marathons.
With an influx of help, the team now is able to place coaches at certain milestones, providing extra support for the runners.
“We have coaches placed every 200 [metres] so the coaches can let them know what their pace is at, let them know what they’re doing, and then encouraging them,” said Shack.
“They’re breaking up those 800s up into 200s.
“We used to do a speed workout with a little bit more length to it, longer than 800 metres,” she continued.
“[But] we’ve found that that didn’t necessarily work for the students,” she noted. “They may have been unmotivated to finish an interval.”
As competitions approach, Shack said the team will begin to put more emphasis on getting into race mentality, adding another component than just fitness.
For starters, four runners took part in Sunday’s Terry Fox Run here. While Shack discouraged them from going full-out, she hopes the quartet was able to get a handle on racing in a crowd.
“It’s really great for them to practise their racing and practise what it feels like in a race mentality when it’s not only your teammates around you running,” she explained.
“It’s just that feeling of you and someone else around you.
“You don’t know if they’re going to leap forward or jump back,” she noted. “How are you going to react as a runner?”
Developing the right mindset during training is more important for cross-country runners than track athletes, added Shack, since cross-country runners don’t have the benefit of coaching with each lap.
“We can’t coach them once they’re on the trail,” she stressed. “We may see them at a cut-through or we might be able to run up a little bit and talk them into a finishing corner, but we often don’t see them on the trail.
“We have to give them that confidence that when they go on that trail there, [they know] that they can surge up a hill or that they can close the gap between them and another runner.
“It’s different in track and field in the spring because we can actually coach them from the side of the track, and let them know if someone’s behind them or the person in front of them is slowing down,” Shack continued.
Some runners admit being challenged to get back in the running groove.
“It’s kind of tough getting back into it,” Jewell admitted during a break in Monday morning’s run.
“It gets easier because you’ve done it for so long,” added fellow veteran Hailey O’Donnell.
“You know what to expect.”
One of the rookies, meanwhile, is thrilled that he has the chance to work alongside a team—even in an individual sport.
“It makes it a little easier when you’re doing it with other people because you’re all pushing for the same goal,” Hamilton reasoned.