A look at life on the cross country team

By August Carriuolo | gargoyle@flagler.edu

gSportsI’ve always found a great sense of satisfaction when pushing myself beyond both my physical and mental limits. It’s that empowering sensation of accomplishment one experiences as they push through their own mental barriers on what’s possible and drive themselves further than they ever believed imaginable; only to then start over the next day and repeat the entire process, setting their sights on even higher goals and working harder each day to obtain them.

It’s less about overcoming a daunting obstacle, but rather about overcoming oneself, your doubts and your own preconceived limitations on what they can accomplish through an iron resolve of will and determination. This mentality has led me to my love of cardiovascular athleticism, particularly jogging and sprinting.

I’m certainly no professional athlete; just a regular guy who enjoys the adrenaline rush and escapism from life’s everyday burdens that jogging provides, as well as the incredible feeling of personal achievement when I overcome my previous limits.

This never-ending journey for self-betterment has given me a deep admiration and respect for endurance athletes, particularly the ones on cross-country teams. The premise of the sport has always intrigued me; how do they cope with such prolonged physical exertions and what were their methods for overcoming them?

My desire for answers led me to the Flagler cross-country team led by Coach Brian Beil, who was more than happy to include me in one of their practices as an observer. I was previously hoping for a chance to participate in the practice for the purpose of gaining firsthand knowledge of the lifestyle and strict regimen required to succeed in a competition.

Yet looking back on the experience, being barred from the practice perhaps might have been a blessing, for I doubt I would have survived till the end.

A realization that quickly dawned upon me was the intense amount of dedication required in being part of the team. It requires a higher caliber of determination than I feel the average college student is willing to commit. Teammates are required to attend practices on a weekly basis in order to hone themselves as individual athletes and their bond as teammates. I learned this lesson the hard way as I woke myself at five in the morning to attend their early practice (on a weekday nonetheless).

Being an active cross-country runner is certainly a feat worthy of accommodation; yet balancing it with their heavy workload as active college student is truly remarkable. Their level of commitment and dedication extends even beyond the practice field, something most students, myself included, could certainly benefit from donning in order to overcome habits of procrastination.

Practice officially began around 5:45 AM. The sun had yet to even rise above the horizon, and the freezing weather was almost unbearable at times.

As I watched the boys and girls on the team swiftly run several laps around the massive soccer field, my stomach rumbled from the lack of any breakfast, and my eyes strained from receiving little sleep.

“How do they do it?” I wondered to myself. The lack of any sufficient nourishment would leave me incapacitated after running for even a fraction of the distance they were undertaking. And what was this seemingly limitless reservoir of energy these people were using to run at six in the morning?

Coach Beil would later explain to me that practices typically took place during the afternoon once classes were usually finished. This atypical early morning practice was one of the rare occasions scheduling conflicts interfered with practice hours. Running through freezing weather in near complete darkness wasn’t the usual cross-country routine, yet it only showcased the team’s tenacity to adapt and persevere through any obstacle.

It was around an hour into practice that the team shattered my expectations once again. The team burst into a dead sprint around the field’s perimeter, making their earlier run seem like a leisurely stroll through the woods. “These guys are machines,” I said aghast. Coach Beil, seeing my astonishment took the liberty of answering some of my lingering questions.

He made it very clear that the Flagler College cross-country program was heavily tailored towards improving the individual athlete in conjunction with the team at large, rather than emphasizing the entire group. It has more to do with improving yourself while encouraging those beside you to do the same. An atypical approach for cross country programs for sure, this is only possible due to Flagler’s modest student population. Other schools would likely focus on the team’s overall synergy over the individual’s performance.

Further intrigued by the demands and overall experience of the cross-country team, I discussed with Coach Beil the amount of miles per week each member was likely to run to stay competitive. He made it very clear that the cross-country program has no set number of miles anyone was required to trek, again emphasizing the program’s goal of improving the individual’s personal performance through a slow yet deliberate process of self-progression.

We were able to settle on an average minimum number of miles the runners usually ran per week. “Thirty-five miles for women and 50 for men,” he told me. Once again in a state of awe, I glanced back at the field as a group of runners sped past hollering encouragement to their fellow teammates.

Roughly an hour later I found myself walking to my 9 a.m. class. I considered what I’d witnessed that morning and the impression that still lingered in my mind.

Being present at the team’s practice only further cemented my respect for the intense discipline inherent in cross-country runners; especially those who juggle their commitment to the sport while also applying themselves academically at their local college or university. Being a cross-country runner certainly isn’t an experience for everyone. It’s an endeavor that requires a substantial amount of personal effort from the individual, and I don’t see the average college student offering that same level of commitment from their already busy schedule.

It’s a true testament to the mind and body of young athletes, and the incomparable sense of accomplishment when one’s personal limits are demolished.

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