Not even Cleveland’s 55-degree weather, pouring rain, and blustery wind could deter the nationally-ranked Gators men’s cross country team as they raced their way to first place at their first meet at Case Western Reserve last Saturday.
“It was a big change from the 90-degree weather that we’ve been training in,” said Head Coach Brent Wilkerson.
The team has been preparing for the season by running hundreds of miles over the summer before even setting foot on campus, but the first two weeks of the semester are the toughest, with each runner setting an individual goal of anywhere from 70 to 110 miles per week.
“These two weeks are vital into building the strength that is vital to the post season,” said Jeramie Parker, ’11.
The beginning of the semester understandably takes its toll on the runners, but the team’s hard work is already paying off; their top five runners at last weekend’s meet had a spread of only 22 seconds, far less than the national champion’s average spread of 40 seconds between the top five runners. Despite the win this past weekend, the team still has a long way to go and cannot take the rest of the season for granted.
“It’s still very early though and we are far from running our fastest especially with our goal to compete well at the national meet,” said Zachary Ross, ’11.
Out of the top five runners, four are seniors, so the team’s greatest strength this year is experience, Wilkerson said. Their next race is not until October, and in the meantime tough workouts will continue in order to work toward the team’s goal.
“We cannot over-pump ourselves up because our goals are for the postseason and not our first meet.,” Parker said. “Having said that, on workout days we focus in order to hit the times and effort that is recommended of us.”
In addition to strength and speed, the workouts help build camaraderie in what sometimes seems like an individual sport, although the runners know this is not the case.
“Waking up at 8 a.m. for a morning run when you have class at 1:30 p.m. is a lot easier when you know there are five other guys downstairs waiting for you,” Ross said.
The team has placed third at nationals twice in the past five years, and Wilkerson has even higher hopes for this years’ postseason.
“We really want to win our first national title this year,” Wilkerson said. “Anything less will be below the goal.”
“We have all of the right weapons in place to attempt this feat, we just have to remain calm now and focused on our workouts,” Parker said. “This will prepare us for our post season push.”
Until then, the runners will continue to work together to grow as both a team and as individuals.
“Our focus last year was doing our business on the course and being ourselves off of it,” Ross said. “We’re goofy, we have no swagger, we can’t pick up girls, some of us play Pokemon for fun (yes, still), but once we step foot on the course it’s business time.”