September 12, 2013

High School Cross Country Preview: Run and fun making them fit

Cross country is a tough sport, so coaches find ways to make it enjoyable for runners.

By Glenn Jordan
Staff Writer

After a long day with Holden Caulfield or whatever other literary subjects David Dowling is teaching in his English classes at Portland High, he drives to Cumberland thinking thinking what, exactly?

click image to enlarge

David Dowling, center, the Greely High cross country coach, smiles easily and often, and has his runners enjoying what they do – as do other coaches.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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"I'm thinking I sure could use a nap," Dowling said. "But then I get (to Greely High, where he coaches cross country) and there's 40 or 50 kids waiting to go running."

Dowling smiles easily and, when surrounded by kids in full gallop, often. Maybe it's the endorphins released by running. Maybe it's the atmosphere. Maybe it's something else.

Because when you get right down to it, running is hard. Doing mile repeats at race pace is not fun. Dowling said he'd rather get hit by a linebacker.

"That's over in 10 seconds," he said. "But with mile repeats, you really feel every step when you're tired."

Which is why, Dowling said, sharing the pain helps to alleviate the misery.

"I always say misery loves company," Dowling said. "So let's do another repeat!"

Making an enjoyable activity out of what other sports consider punishment -- "You messed up again. Take a lap, Jordan!" -- is part of the alchemy employed by successful cross country coaches.

Some include games in their training regimen. Ultimate frisbee is a favorite. Tag, Capture the flag and Fox and Hounds are others. The runners at Brunswick High play something called Ninja Warrior.

"They do enjoy themselves a lot," said Coach Dave DeLois. "Our kids are very social."

Many a preseason camp included a weekend in the woods or some similar getaway. The boys of Cape Elizabeth, the defending Class B state champions, camped near the White Mountains. Their adventure culminated in a Saturday morning time trial with the reward, if you hit your goal, of giant cinnamon rolls from a corner store. "It sets a good bonding tone," said Coach Derek Veilleux. "We run, we swim, we do some hiking. All the freshmen get acclimated."

The girls of Bonny Eagle play something called Blob that draws from tag and musical chairs. At weekly team dinners they also try their hand at cup-and-clap rhythms made popular by a 2003 Deering High grad, Anna Kendrick, and her "When I'm Gone" song and video.

"We do the cup game at pretty much every dinner," said Bonny Eagle Coach Chris Strout, whose team won its first Class A state title last fall. "(Veterans) teach the new people on the team how to do it, so it's a bonding thing."

At Camden Hills, Coach Becky Flanagan augments training with yoga and takes advantage of her school's unique location by planning routes that offer a panoramic view of Penobscot Bay.

"They love running to the top of Beech Hill and looking around," Flanagan said of a nature preserve in nearby Rockport. "They also like to run to Megunticook Lake and jump in. I always have a couple of lifeguards on the team."

Team dinners are another staple and Flanagan brings in a nutritionist at least once every season to speak with her runners.

"It's a tough sport," she said. "The races themselves are very grueling, but the sense of accomplishment is tremendous, so there's a real sense of camaraderie."

Jim Harmon, who has coached the Scarborough boys to six Class A state titles in the past nine years, focuses less on games and more on the satisfaction earned through self-improvement.

(Continued on page 2)

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