Cross country is a sport that requires endurance from its competitors.
So in order to get ready for a junior high and high school season, those outside of the sport might believe that an excessive amount of running is required. But that is not always the case.
Under Head Coach Linda McAllister, the Waverly cross country program has flourished as her Tigers and Lady Tigers enjoy the variety of work that they put into preparing for their season. Some of it is even fun.
Besides coaching cross country and teaching elementary school students at Waverly, McAllister is also the manager of the Pike County Swim Club, meaning that her cross country runners can utilize the pool for workouts after hours.
Throughout the summer, Tuesday evenings are “pool nights” for the team.
“This is a nice workout to get their legs off the concrete. I used to have them run around the mushroom (in the pool), but we just run laps now because there is more space with COVID concerns,” said McAllister.
“They swim three laps to start the workout. Then we do all of our plyos (plyometrics) like walking on our toes and our heels, lunges, high-knee butt kick and karaoke (grapevine drills). Next, we do situps in the water and then forward situps, as well as ‘Around the World’ (rolling your body in the water), squats, and then we go to the sides (of the pool) and do pushups on the wall.”
All of those exercises are not the end of the workouts. Up next is a 20 minutes to a half hour of treading water in the deep end. For variety, McAllister tells her team to tread faster at times, as well as use only their arms or their legs while treading. An additional challenge is passing a basketball around to each other while treading water.
“Sometimes we swim under the water for breathing and lung capacity,” she said. “Then they swim six laps to end, and they are done.”
What is the reaction to all of this water exercise? “They love it,” said McAllister.
Even in the mornings or nights when the Tigers don’t have an official pool workout, they meet at the pool to run. Different runners have different routes and distances based upon their ability and age.
On Mondays, the athletes meet at the pool and run. On Tuesday evenings, they have their pool workout. Wednesday is often a hiking and training day at Scioto Trail State Park. Then on Thursdays, the team heads to Great Seal Park for more outdoor action. On Fridays, it is back to running around Waverly again.
In a normal summer, the Tigers go to cross country camp, sometimes at Hocking Hills where they do plenty of hiking.
“We couldn’t go to camp this year. So we are doing day trips,” said McAllister, mentioning two big hikes and a kayaking adventure. Toward the end of summer as a reward, the team will have a pool party.
“It is very important for us to get conditioned in the summer time. When track season was canceled, they all took two weeks off. Then through texts, I was sending them workouts. Then we started June 1,” said McAllister.
Missing their track season was hard for the Tigers, as junior Jack Monroe and sophomore Hannah Swinning shared.
“It was heartbreaking. I almost cried,” said Swinning. “I love being with the team and getting that bonding time with them. It broke my heart not getting to be around them all of the time.”
In mid-July, cross country had not yet received the go-ahead by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) for official practices leading up to competition. Girls tennis, golf and volleyball were approved to go ahead and practice. But the OHSAA listed cross country in the category with other contact sports like soccer and football.
“Hopefully we get to have a season. Right now we are filed as a contact sport. I can see it (why they made that choice), but I really hope we get to have a season,” said Monroe. “I heard rumors of spring cross country and then you would have to choose between cross country or track. I really hope for everyone that all fall sports are in the fall, and all spring sports are in the spring.”
Monroe was looking forward to his final high school track season with his senior friends. As it ended up, Monroe’s final race with those seniors came at the state cross country meet when the Tigers qualified as a team in November 2019.
“Aidan (Judd), Phil (Evory), Spencer (Fraley), Grayson (Diener), and I have all been best friends for a long time, and I didn’t get to have a last season with them,” said Monroe. “I was really looking forward to running 4x8 with them. That’s what hurt the most not having a last meet with those guys and knowing it was the last meet.”
Judd and Evory will be suiting up for the Shawnee State University cross country team in the fall, and Grayson Diener is headed to Georgetown University for football. Meanwhile, Monroe will be looked upon as one of the Waverly cross country leaders since he is returning with state experience.
Monroe feels that the pool training has helped with team chemistry.
“I think this is good because we lost a bunch of our seniors and team leaders. We are adjusting. It is good to get together and bond, and also have good workouts,” said Monroe. “We are in week 12 of training, and it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like week three. That’s not in a bad way, but a good way.”
Both Monroe and Swinning did swim workouts last summer as well and could tell the difference the workouts made in their running.
“It helps a lot with endurance. When you are swimming with just doing your arms or legs, that’s basically what you are doing,” said Swinning. “If your legs get tired, you push more with your arms. If your arms get tired, you push more with your legs. It is really just helping us build our endurance.”
Monroe added that he could tell a huge difference in his endurance.
“The pool is great because we really need to do something a little bit different than just running all of the time,” said Coach Linda McAllister. “Plus it builds ‘team.’ That’s what is going to carry them in the end is ‘team.’ Summer is usually a relaxing time, getting in miles. We do a little speed, but not much. We want them to get a solid base. Sometimes just letting them have fun and be kids is the most important.”