By Scarlett Fox
The alarm goes off at 5 a.m. You yank the covers off your bed, throw on workout clothes, grab both pairs of training and workout shoes, strap on your wristwatch, shake out your stiff legs, and march out the door.
Then you drive to your destination. You get out of the car. The sun still isn’t up, but you are. Two days a week, you start a 15 minute warmup jog, stretch out, go through warmup drills, shake out your legs again, then put yourself in front of whatever starting line Coach has mapped out for that day.
You hear the plan for the workout, then wait for the words that come second nature to you… “Go!”
Who are you? You are an Ole Miss cross country runner.
The other watches around you beep and the group is off. Today’s location is the Ole Miss golf course, where the morning dew is still fresh, and a path is marked out on the grass by both flags and the footprints of 18 girls and 18 boys.
Today’s workout? Mile repeats. How many? Six. Effort level? 80 to 85 percent.
Most people would look at this workout and have to pick their jaws back up off the ground, but this is a basic workout for the typical distance runner to establish a “base,” which will lead to even faster, but slightly shorter intervals in the next couple of weeks.
In the beginning of the season, the humidity is still hanging in the air, which prompts people to strip off their shirts and still be dripping with sweat, even though the team is only halfway through the workout.
Some years, when the temperature drops to 30 degrees in late October, you can hear the crunching of the wet ground from the dew freezing into tiny icicles as both the men and women round the sand pit and the green.
But the week doesn’t stop there. Sunday is the last day of the week that requires the most mileage, also known as a long run.
For the women, most of them will run between 11 to 13 miles, and on some weeks, will be bumped up to 14. For the men, most will run between 15 to 18 miles.
In order to get in the adequate mileage on surfaces such as gravel and clay (to stay off of concrete that can provoke injuries), the team drives out to locations in Batesville, Shady Grove and Holly Springs, where there is an abundance of back country roads… and hills.
It’s on days like this that the occasional car or hunter driving by will find groups of college kids charging up inclines or gliding past trees, pushing each other in a synchronized rhythm of swinging arms and heavy breathing.
After Sunday, the women may total between 50-70 miles a week, depending on the person. For the men, it is usually between 80-90 miles.
As one of the most under-the-radar competitions in college athletics, even the most adamant sports fans could not even tell you what cross country is. For those who don’t know, cross country is a long distance race where a course is mapped out for the runners.
For men, the majority of the season is as long as eight kilometers (five miles), and for the post-season, it increases to a 10K (6.2 miles). The post season includes a regional race, where the top two teams in the region advance to nationals.
The women run a 5K (3.1 miles) the first part of the season, then advance to a 6K (3.8 miles). But for the average college distance runner, the competition does not end there.
Sure, cross country season may be over. But then comes the second half of the year where most runners will take two weeks “off,” then begin to get in shape for indoor track.
By off, that does not mean people are not running. It just means runners are free to train at a comfortable pace with no workouts for two weeks, and the amount of miles run in a week may be reduced.
At this point, runners who are more gifted in the speedier events, such as the 800, mile and 3K, are jumping for joy to get back to their specialty. For those who show a knack for the longer distances, they can look forward to running the 5K for indoor.
Although the Manning Center is an awesome facility for both track and field athletes and football players, it is hard for distance runners to run the workouts they need because of the makeup of the track in the building.
Therefore, the only place left is on the outdoor track at Lafayette or Oxford High School, due to the unstable ground underneath the Ole Miss track that has been labeled dangerous to use.
This also means there is no escaping the freezing temperatures that come in January and February… even when it is 30 degrees and raining. For 99.9 percent of the time, there is no rescheduling the workout. Sometimes the team waits out the rain if it is a torrential downpour. But most of the time, they will put on more layers, lace on their spikes, start a warm-up, then line up at the starting line with Coach Vanhoy standing in the same conditions with a stopwatch in hand. Afterwards comes a cool down and a mad dash into the locker rooms to change into dry clothes for those who planned ahead.
After the indoor season, teams go straight into outdoor season in March, which pretty much follows the same routine. The only differences are the milers will now run a 1,500 (a mile is 1,600m), the 3K turns into the steeplechase (where runners have to jump over barriers and a water pit), and those who prefer even longer distances now have the option of running both the 5K and 10K.
Once the outdoor season is over, athletes once again have a two-week “off” period and begin to build up mileage once again to get ready for cross country season. Now that the cycle has restarted, many are looking to either get ready for a comeback year to make up for an unsatisfactory season, or to continue to improve from a strong year.
Many do not fully understand the mental and physical hardships that distance running brings. Week in and week out, these athletes are expected to continue to come out to a hard schedule of training and getting mentally prepared for competitions.
At the beginning of the year, it is easy to look forward to achieving your goals and dreams for the season. But as your body begins to wear down in your muscles down to your bones, it takes a certain amount of dedication and love for the sport to continue to push your body to limits that most people do not dare to go.
That is what defines Ole Miss distance running from other sports on campus. That is what makes these athletes tick. And that is why when you now see a group of people running on the side of roads or around campus, you now have a little more insight on people you are watching.