Navigating a Virtual Cross Country Season by Derek Fearon

Navigating a Virtual Cross Country Season by Derek Fearon

I went to Rock Canyon High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, where I began running in earnest (~4 years ago) under the tutelage of some pretty impressive people (like the great Coach Daniel Grant). I was inspired by my coaches and those I was surrounded by so much that it compelled me to continue running in college.

I now attend Pomona College, usually located in Claremont, California, and run for the Pomona-Pitzer Colleges cross country and track team (the Sagehens!). This semester is remote and virtual. Therefore, the cross country season has been cancelled, or at least postponed for a semester.

That hasn’t stopped my team though! The “remote season” obviously lacks the in-person competitive component, but we are still engaged in training and “races,” a.k.a. glorified time trials. Training plans are administered and recorded through online programs like Strava and TrainingPeaks. My teammates and I still complete the same workouts, but the online aspect of the plans has actually allowed a more tailored approach to the times and pacing of intervals (a silver lining, perhaps?). Each athlete inputs the results of each run and the online program processes variables like elevation, heart rate, and mileage to give more accurate and personalized pacing.

Maybe this Zoom University thing could actually be useful for coaches and runners…  Evidently, running difficult workouts alone is not the most exhilarating part of this experience. It certainly becomes very draining to pace oneself and find motivation daily individually and not others. On the bright side, the solitude forces me to really look inward and evaluate my willingness to push myself in running. I had become so reliant on working off my teammates’ energy that producing it myself turns out to be really productive for my running attitude.   Also, my team’s weekly Zoom meetings helps the situation of lonely running.  These meetings are the primary means of communication that my coach uses to relay information to us. On these calls, we talk about the workouts, results of time trials, and other less serious subjects (like one’s favorite LaCroix flavor…Pastèque, of course). Outside of Zoom, we have group chats and other means of communication where I have had meaningful interactions with my teammates.

Races (time trials) add another component of interaction and team-building. Roughly every other week, we have run time trials of variable length (2 mile, 5K, 8K, etc.). Often times, the team will be broken down into smaller teams to compete against each other in the same vein as fantasy football. These races are actually pretty fun! They force me to take on a kind of race mode that mimics some of that special sauce that is competitive running.

Online cross country is probably not the most enticing of opportunities for the competitive runner, but hopefully I’ve shed some light on the perseverance of the sport during unparalleled times. With a little structure, a lot of motivation, and a team to back you, the core of cross country – discipline, camaraderie, and achievement – is possible even in a pandemic.

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