A Day in the Life: UCSD Cross Country

    To me, running is an activity akin to eating vegetables or getting your wisdom teeth pulled. Most people don’t enjoy it, but they do it to stay healthy.

    UCSD’s cross country team is made up of the exceptions: those few that actually enjoy going on a 10 mile morning run. Six out of the seven days a week — the NCAA regulation maximum amount of days a team is allowed to practice — the 16 men and 20 women on the roster usually start their day well before 8 a.m.

    Practices begin at 7:20 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends. The shortest runs, says junior captain Matt Lenehan, will usually be around five miles, but will only take the men around 35 minutes. Runners look to maintain their stamina, going on longer runs with the pack, and once or twice a week, will look to push themselves to work on their speed.

    Most of the time, outside of the different routes and the changes in scenery, practices are monotonous, and for most people, painfully so.

    But senior captain Aaryn Kobayashi says that the amount of “physical punishment” the runners endure on a daily basis — the aches and pains, the strained breathing, the tendinitis and twisted ankles — is reconciled for some by the sheer enjoyment of the endeavor, and for others by the gratification of accomplishment.

    This year’s women’s cross country squad saw an overhaul in personnel, with head coach Ronald Garcia bringing in a number of new runners. But Kobayashi says the youth has brought with it a renewed competition within the squad, keeping the senior runners on their toes as the newcomers push to claim spots of their own.

    Within the squad, an odd balance between competitiveness and camaraderie needs to be struck. With only 10 runners allowed to travel with the team, and nearly twice that amount on the roster, runners are always looking to beat the guy in front of them. Lenahan and Kobayashi agree that it’s enjoyable to run with the pack, but that at the end of the day, everyone’s accountable for themselves.

    Probably because of the intensity of the event, cross country runners, more than any other set of collegiate athletes, are arguably the most rigid about taking care of their bodies. In soccer, basketball, water polo or golf, a bad performance can be written off by the difficulty of the course, bad weather, poor refereeing, etc. But in cross country, there’s no getting around the numbers. You either ran well, or you didn’t — and in either case, the fault lies with the runner alone.

    Once a year, the runners consult with a staff nutritionist, making sure that they get enough calories in to maintain their weight.

    And unlike other sports, because a lot of UCSD’s cross country athletes run for track as well, there is no off season. The push to improve is a year-round struggle.
      
    I ended a brief phone interview with Lenehan by asking the two-time letter winner what kinds of goals the team has at the end of the season for themselves.

    His answers had been brief throughout, but Lenehan curtly replied, “The goal is always to win the race,” after which I thought I had been dismissed as ignorant and that the conversation was over. He went on to add that the team is also always looking to qualify for nationals and improve individually, but his first statement sums it up.

    At the end of the day, cross country is a bottom line, and everyone’s just racing to the top.

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