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A slow start off the line: cross country during the pandemic

September 10, 2020

This fall is a far cry from the traditional competition season, but Bowdoin’s cross country teams are making the most of the situation and trying to stay fit and connected. With no meets on the horizon, the women’s and men’s teams are taking a gradual approach to starting up training as everyone gets settled in to the school year.

“Cross country is a sport with a long tradition of individual summer training,” wrote Head Coach Peter Slovenski in an email to the Orient. “We are continuing with the summer training model for now.”

He added that plans will become more concrete once the season officially begins on September 21. For the captains of both teams thus far, setting a teamwide schedule has been a particular challenge, given that their runners are in different time zones and have classes during different time blocks.

“Typically, we would be having practice every day at 4:30…but it’s hard to find times when everybody can Zoom,” said women’s captain Holly Lyne ’21 in a phone interview with the Orient. “We want to accommodate as much as possible people’s class schedules, other clubs and their home lives.”

Even so, runners are still working hard.

“Generally, running a lot of miles is the thing,” said men’s captain Andrew Meredith ’22 in a phone interview with the Orient. “And that’s something that’s just accepted as a fundamental truth of the sport. It’s something you can always do.”

The lack of competitions, said Meredith, has made the season feel especially strange.

“If you’re a long-distance athlete…then you are able to compete year-round—fall, winter and spring, and you train in the summer,” he said. “So far, it’s just been so different, because we’ve been looking at a time frame that is just completely new to all of us. We’re not racing for over half a year instead of [just] a couple of weeks.”

The women’s captains echoed this sentiment.

“It’s definitely weird for me,” said women’s captain Abby Osmanski ’21 in a phone interview with the Orient. “But I do like the fact that we haven’t lost [the sense of] us being together and [being] a team.”

In a season without formal competition, both teams have shifted their focus toward building and maintaining a sense of community within the team.

“Our biggest goal this season is to create a close sense of community on the team, even when we have to be socially distant,” said Lyne. “We’re especially thinking a lot about our first years and asking ourselves how we can connect with them and welcome them.”

In that spirit, both teams have held introductory Zoom meetings with their incoming first years. Both are also working hard to devise more programming in the coming weeks and months to keep spirits high. The women’s captains, for example, are considering Zoom lift sessions, and they have used Google Maps to share the team’s traditional routes around Brunswick with first years.

“We were getting a lot of emails from first years being like, ‘Where do I run? What do I do? We don’t know the area,’” said women’s captain Delaney Bullock ’22 in a phone interview with the Orient. “So we mapped [the routes] out and sent it to them.”

The men’s team’s plans are less certain this early in the season, but Meredith said that he felt confident the first-year runners will do well.

“What’s really great about them is that they’re a big class,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten very lucky to have these big classes because it’s just a strength in numbers kind of thing… I’m excited to see them build that [strong] relationship in whatever capacity they can, and then going forward, it’s something really valuable for us.”

In this strange new season, with so much still up in the air, the dominant feeling is still one of optimism and hope.

“We are a pretty good sport in a pandemic. We run outside over large areas and we have a lot of experience mixing in individual efforts with team efforts,” wrote Slovenski. “The balance of how our team participates this fall will shift more toward the individual, but runners will be able to deal with that very well.”

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