Despite a slow start to the season with finishes like eighth at the All-Ohio Intercollegiate championships on Sept. 29, the death of the men’s cross-country team has been greatly exaggerated.
Legendary cross-country head coach Jack Hazen said that right now the athletes are in the best condition they have ever been in with results to back up his claim.
In its last two meets the men’s cross-country team has salvaged its season by winning the Walt Disney World Cross-Country Classic in Orlando on Oct. 6, finishing tied for second in the GLIAC championships on Oct. 20 and winning the Walsh Invitational on Oct. 27.
Although wins are great, the most notable performance of the bunch is the second place share in the GLIAC championships as 100% of the men achieved personal best times.
“Of course we wanted to win it (the GLIAC championships) but we gave them (Grand Valley State University, the champions) a good scare the first half of the race,” Hazen said. “I was pleased.”
The Pioneers were able to capture second place in large part thanks to its top runner, sophomore Andrew Trusty.
Despite feeling under the weather, with a time of 24:28.6 over the 8K course, he was able to gut through and finish third overall.
“What I tell myself before every race is that I am going to go and do the best I can because that is all I can do,” Trusty said. “I know I have the Lord watching over me and protecting me.
“I was so blessed to run the time I ran; I was so surprised and so happy with my performance.”
Another key for the Pioneers came a few days before the race began at practice when the emphasis was on sticking together as a pack.
“A lot of times we will just stretch out and run by ourselves,” freshman Ryan Roush, who finished eighth overall at GLIAC, said. “The emphasis for that workout was to work together and I think that is why we ended up running as well as we did.”
While the upward trend in performance appears sudden, the Pioneers knew it was coming because of the training method the coaching staff has implemented.
[pullquote]That race (the All-Ohio) just comes at a bad time for us,” Hazen said. “If it were next week we might be able to win it.”[/pullquote]
The method that the Pioneers have employed under this coaching staff is one where the team won’t do a lot of VO2 max or hard workouts until the end of the season.
“Our training is such that we do most aerobic, power running early in the season,” Hazen said. “Then during the latter half of the season we are increasing it, adding stress to the body to challenge the lactide tolerance and the max VO2.”
Basically the team builds up a strong base for the majority of the year and then, at a precise point, starts to run a lot of hard workouts so they can peak at the right time and in the right races.
This is why the early season results look mediocre. However, if the All-Ohio were next week Hazen is pretty confident the results wouldn’t be the same.
“That race (the All-Ohio) just comes at a bad time for us,” Hazen said. “If it were next week we might be able to win it.”
Looking forward the Pioneers’ eyes are fixated on winning this weekend’s NCCAA Nationals meet.
Going into the race Hazen said his team is “on a high” right now after running its last hard workout last Wednesday so well.
The workout is what assistant coach Matthew Reneker has deemed the “father, son and holy spirit workout.” Basically the workout is mile repeats on these three different surfaces: grass, road and track.
Hazen said what was notable about this workout was most athletes ran the last mile, on the track, in personal best times.
With all the focus on this weekend, the biggest concern for the Pioneers to win is health as the men reach their peak fitness level.
“We have to stay healthy,” Hazen said. “In a sport like ours, which is a sport not a game, it is all on raw fitness and body conditioning.”
Unlike years past (where they have sent the JV or B team and still won), winning Christians nationals won’t be a walk in the park.
“Some of the top teams in the NAIA who are in limbo like we are will be coming to this meet,” Hazen said. “So it is a true national meet this year and our guys are going to go after it and try to win it.”
The men’s cross-country team will wrap up the season this weekend when they try to win the aforementioned Christian nationals in Cedarville, OH on Oct. 10 at 10:45 a.m.