Cross country faces obstacles

James Heck

Adapting to change is something the 2012 Sacramento State men’s and women’s cross country teams do on a weekly basis.

Each week the runners compete on a different cross country course. No two races are the same.

The Hornets’ first race of the season was Aug. 31 at the UC Davis Aggie Open at the Putah Creek Reserve Course in Davis. The men’s 6k and women’s 4k courses are extremely flat and comprised of mostly dirt.

The difference between a flat course and a hilly course can have a profound physical and mental effect on the way some runners perform. For others, all they see is a course to compete on.

“The course itself doesn’t really change what the strategy for the race is at all,” senior Kyle Lackner said. “It may change how we start the race, or where we go at some point in the race, but in the end a race is a race.”

To prepare for an upcoming course, the team often mimics the course layout by running on similar terrain in practice.

And it is the specific training runs that really prepare the team for whatever course may come its way, Lackner said.

“You kind of have to look at it as another day of practice and believe that our training will get us through the races,” Lackner said. “A majority of running is completely mental. It is overcoming the pain that you are putting yourself into.”

The Hornets’ home course at Granite Regional Park also features a relatively flat layout, but contains two or three hills throughout.

To prepare for courses featuring hills, the cross country team does hill-repeats at Bannister Park in Fair Oaks and along the bike trail at Lake Natoma in Folsom.

Because each course is different from week to week, the runners need to become somewhat familiar with the layout. The team previews the course either the day before the race or the day of by running the course or studying a map.

“If it’s a completely flat course, there is less to think about,” junior Reesey Byers said. “I don’t really think about it, but I guess that is kind of the whole thing. I just race.”

Byers said he loves racing on golf courses because of the different terrain he encounters throughout the race. The combination of uneven surfaces, occasional hills and interchanging flat areas present an exciting challenge, Byers said.

To prepare for the race at the Robinson Ranch golf course at the Pac-12 Preview on Sept. 21, the cross country team conducted workouts at the Campus Commons golf course along the American River near Sac State.

Byers also said racing on golf courses is exciting because runners are allowed to wear either cross country or track and field spikes to gain better traction.

The Hornets’ women’s cross country team competed in its first significant hilly course of the season on Sept. 14 at the Speedway Meadow at the SF State Invitational at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

“I think with hilly courses you have to stay really mentally strong through the whole thing,” junior Justine Rea said. “Hills are really mentally hard for me. You have to push yourself to get up and not let them pass you on the way down.”

Aside from the challenge of the hills at the Speedway Meadow, the women’s 6k race was slightly over half a mile longer than the usual 5k distance for women.

The challenge with a longer, hilly course is often times runners will start out too fast and not have enough energy left for the end, Rea said.

“When it’s a flatter course, you kind of know that people are going to be going out faster,” Rea said. “So I think you kind of mentally prepare yourself for that, and know you are going to be going fast the entire time.”

But regardless of whether the course is flat or contains hills, the team needs to work together to get through it, freshman Chloe Berlioux said.

“I try not to dwell too much on how the course is going to pan out,” Berlioux said. “I just try to relax and know I am racing for Sac State and the women’s cross country team.”

Berlioux said her strategy for racing on hilly courses is to focus on driving her knees and pumping her arms up the hills and controlling her stride going down hills.

“I know it is going to be painful either way,” Berlioux said. “So for hills I really like to power up them.”

Each course the Sac State teams will navigate on change as quickly as they cover it.

One week the course may be extremely flat, providing fast times. Another week the course may contain several hills, offering more of a challenge.

Regardless, the Hornets runners will traverse through pavement, dirt, gravel, wood chips and grass to cross the finish line.

“I guess that’s why they call it cross country,” Berlioux said.

James Heck can be reached at [email protected]