Cross Country Summer Training During The Pandemic

The past three and a half months have been a test to the self-motivation of every athlete across not only Illinois but also the globe. For cross country runners, once the track season was canceled, their hope turned toward the 2020 cross country season.

A recent MileSplit IL poll confirms this sentiment. 75% of athletes who responded to the poll stated their training has shifted wholly to cross country. Meanwhile, less than 15% of respondents had the intention of continuing forward with track competitions this summer. A question that has been in the back of my mind, and I'm sure many other cross country fanatics, is what will the first-ever year of summer training during a global pandemic look like? In this article, I'll explore some of the implications as well as guidelines the IHSA has released.

Accountability is a necessary tool to ensure each member of the team gets in their proper summer mileage. In years past, accountability came in the form of summer running camp, meeting up with teammates, or talking with coaches in-person, but this year, so far, none of that has been commonplace. At Libertyville High School, my teammates and coaches have been posting our daily runs in a Strava club. All of us were new to Strava but quickly became fond of it. Strava, or any other method of sharing runs, has been a great way to gain motivation by seeing the runs teammates have been doing, and it exposes any holes in the training of others that the coaches can catch onto. On top of that, weekly virtual team meetings have been useful in creating the team-centric environment that makes cross country so beloved.

One benefit the pandemic could provide summer training is the drastic increase in free time. Now athletes likely have far fewer commitments and have more freedom to decide what to do with their days. The hot weather likely pushes athletes to run early in the morning, and now most runners are free to do that or run in the evening when the weather cools off.

On June 6th, the IHSA approved the opportunity for schools to host practices with a few catches, the major one being that these practices cannot "include any skill of sport training elements." This means that the practices could only focus on general fitness, not any skills that would directly benefit an athlete in a specific sport. At Libertyville, the administrators opted not to let any sports train off-campus, making it difficult for the cross country team to benefit under these guidelines.

More recently, on June 15th, the IHSA released a new set of guidelines under stage two of the return to play initiative. The new set of guidelines aligns "with Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan" that will likely go into effect "in late June and early July." Phase four of the Restore Illinois plan allows gatherings of up to 50 people at a time, which for many schools will be sufficient to hold practice for the cross country teams. As of the writing of this article, the IHSA is still pending approval from the Illinois Department of Public Health. At Libertyville, the athletic directors have tentatively chosen to start these camps in early July and run them for three days per week through the start of the school year, but every school's plan will likely look different. When not running, Libertyville has required athletes to maintain a six-foot distance from each other. Stage two of IHSA's return to play plan certainly looks promising for the resumption of fall sports. 

At this point, summer training is about halfway completed, and while it's uncertain whether or not the cross country season will happen, the best plan of action is to keep persevering and training consistently while staying safe.

IHSA articles quoted: