‘Our sport is your punishment’

Cross country runners push themselves to physical limits

November 21, 2019


Serineh Ohanian

Freshman Parker Simmons runs near the finish line at a race in Crescenta Valley Park.

Unlike most popular sports, cross country runners typically do not grow up practicing as they would sports like basketball or soccer. “I’ve been seriously running since freshman year,” said senior Gabriela Quinones from Hoover High School. “I did a little bit of middle school cross country, but I wasn’t as dedicated to it as I am now. Running has become my passion. I love seeing the beautiful scenery as I take each step during a race or practice.”

Quinones said that her first experience with cross country was through her middle school extracurricular activities. Her P.E. teacher encouraged her to run in her local Run4Fun youth running program. The LA84 Foundation hosts the annual Run4Fun to serve Los Angeles-area school districts’ students with sports opportunities. The program introduces students to a sport that most kids typically are not eager to partake in. “It made me realize that running in a distance race wasn’t totally an impossible feat,” Quinones said of the experience.

One of the most challenging aspects of cross country is that the terrain one runs can include loose, rocky hills or even open streams. Preparing for a cross country race naturally requires competition, but also learning how to cope with mother nature.

Unlike most sports, a field is not prepared for the runners’ competition. A runner never knows what to expect during a race; they can encounter endurance training but they also must have the ability to quickly adapt to changing environments. A successful runner must learn to be focused and motivated to overcome any challenge presented. 

Cross country running is about strength as much as it is about speed. Over nine miles a typical length of a workout, often through fields and over hills. Running is especially tough on the calves and it’s difficult shifting one’s body in different positions to cope with the uneven ground. It is not like racing on a track, and the only preparation a runner can do is to spend time running in different environments.

Runners constantly feel the toll of running cross country on their body. “I get horrible cramps in my legs, and sometimes I can’t even move because of how badly they hurt,” said senior Avo Arabetyan. Arabetyan would often get terrible shin splints. “I felt very frustrated after my injuries, and there were a lot of times I could not make practice and wanted to give up on running,” Arabetyan said.

Junior Sinitia Khosravian began running her sophomore year. When asked about why she did not try out for cross country her freshman year, she said, “It would be a lot of work.” Although being on a school sports team is time consuming,  Khosravian manages to run extra miles on the weekends and keep up her grades.

Running schedules also restrict the time runners have to hang out with friends and family. Runners are required to attend meets, run a minimum of six days of the week, and wake up at 6 a.m. for morning practices on Saturdays.

Many of the team members are also active with their academics and extracurricular activities. The runners work hard in all areas, but see cross country as a place where they can achieve and succeed outside of the classroom,”  Khosravian said.

Cross country not only hones a person’s athletic abilities, it teaches them lessons and skills to use for any part of their life, according to Khosravian. Runners learn to organize their time from rigorous training, completing upcoming assignments and maintaining a social life. 

In cross country, learning how to manage time is important, most runners say. Practices ending at 7 p.m. (such as the Hoover High practices) can interfere with the time to do homework and study. “You learn how to adapt to the difficult schedule. Joining cross country really made me step up my game in time management,” Khosravian said. “There is no time for procrastination.”

Runners such as students at Hoover High School typically train on nearby hiking trails in Verdugo Park and Brand Park. They strive to improve their times for their races by running on terrain similar to the race courses. Every practice their coach incorporates elements of what they will encounter during races by integrating steep hills and grassy surfaces in to the workouts.

Practices typically start with a warm up, end with a cool down and are completed with weights and strength training. “During a tempo run, I have the runners run at a speed 15 to 30 seconds slower than your race pace and at roughly eight out of 10 on the exertion scale,” said Jack Sallakian, coach of the Hoover Cross Country team.

Tempo runs increase metabolic fitness and their higher intensities build lactic acid thresholds, meaning that when race day comes, runners will not fatigue as quickly. Runners train hard to ensure that they can keep a consistent pace for the duration of the race. Most cross country races are 3.1 miles and require endurance built over time to keep running at a high intensity for a long period. 

Freshman Parker Simmons pushes himself during every practice to accomplish his main goal to participate in the California Interscholastic Federation cross country championships. CIF is the governing body for high school sports in California. The competition involves the top runners from each school. With two marathons under Simmons’s belt, he has become accustomed to facing difficult challenges to achieve his ultimate goal. 

With constant hard work and training given to the sport, Simmons has won multiple medals for being a top runner in races. Simmons’s best time from this season was 15:10 for a 3-mile race, an improvement of two minutes from his previous year. “I was one of the slowest runners my first year of cross country. It just pushed me harder to put in more mileage to improve on my speed and consistency,” Simmons said.

Simmons has dedicated countless hours to running, on and off season. The team usually practices through the summer until the season starts for three hours a day. Once the season starts in August, they usually have longer practices that consist of four to five hours of running. The team also has Saturday practices beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 1 p.m. “All of that hard work is consistently paying off in the improvement of the team’s race times,” Simmons said.

Simmons became the new school record holder, pacing the field with a time of 15:10. He credits his success on the course to his recent training, saying, “We had done hill work leading up to the race, which definitely helped with going up the last hill and finishing the race fast.”

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