With the opening of Cross Country high school meets, come both new and familiar questions from runners and their families alike. Just to review some of the basics, here are samples of questions I receive as a coach, a teacher and a former athletic director. No question is too small. Indeed, even the smallest factor in our sport of running can make all the difference in performance. Remember renowned Coach John Wooden spent valuable practice time teaching his players how to tie their shoes!
Moms and Dads, feel free to ask me anything!
1) What are the best shoes to buy my child? Answer: there is not just one single brand of shoes to be recommended, because everyone has an individual foot-plant and that will decide what shoes work best for your child. I would recommend, however, going to an authentic running store in your area. I say “authentic” because I do not mean your local sporting store that may carry a few running shoes even if the sales clerk does not know a thing about running. You want a sales person who can individualize your shoe choice to your child’s feet. You want someone who will consider how your child runs by observing them in stride, and who will consider the amount of running they will be doing, and how much your pocketbook can afford, as opposed to just selling you what’s in stock. Stick to the major brands of running specialty shoes and you’ll do all right. Another tip – keep the training shoes for training, and not for everyday wear and tear. Wear something different to school and keep the running shoes for running.
2) What should I feed my athlete before running a race? Your athlete will be advised by their coach, so please be as supportive as you possibly can to reinforce what the coach requests. I can tell you that those meals are also an individual choice, based on what the runner is used to eating and what digests easily. The key is to not eat anything unfamiliar, but to stick to a regular diet with these caveats: sometimes eating dairy products or raw fruits and vegetables before running may cause stomach distress, so as I describe my own choices before running, I stick to what I call a post-flu bland diet, or “safe food.” A pre-race meal must be as balanced as any other meal, with a little more emphasis on the carbohydrates, but balanced with protein too. Typically, this could be chicken and rice or pasta with cooked vegetables, for one example. The post-race meal should also be balanced; but since it’s usually on-the-go after a race, a good choice might be a turkey sandwich or a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich (except of course for people with peanut allergies).
3) How important is sleep? In a word, ever so important. As coaches tell their athletes, no matter the sport, it is at rest when your body repairs itself and when you grow. Now then, for the ones who worry about their mental fortitude when they haven’t slept well the night before a meet, put their fears at rest by telling them that it’s the night before the night before the meet that matters about their rest. Lots of folks are nervous the night before a race, and as long as you’ve been getting a regular good night’s sleep beforehand, you’ll be fine.
4) How is a Cross Country race scored?
I am no mathematician, so if I can understand the complex scoring system of a cross country meet, anyone can. Think LOW SCORE WINS. A perfect score would be fifteen points. Your team’s first five runners score, so if they are good enough to sweep the race 1st through 5th, then the sum of 1+2+3+4+5 = 15. Voila. Perfect score wins. Simple as that.
It gets a little complicated when you consider the next two runners, #6 & #7. Your squad has seven runners, yes. The other two “displace” the runners from the opposing teams. They don’t add points to your score, but they push back the runners behind them in the count. So they definitely contribute to the score and they can make the difference.
I’ll stop here, because to explain what happens when more than seven of your team run together, and beyond #7, their places are discounted; never mind the bigger meets with multiple teams running some with less than seven and some of them with more than seven. At that point, a calculator and someone with a mind for numbers is required. Counting points becomes like the card game called “Concentration.”