For most people, cross-country is nothing more than a group of people running a race without the benefit of pavement. But for those in the mix, it is much more. A cross-country runner has much more to worry about than his or her own physical conditioning.
Teams field five members, each as important as the next. Everyone starts at once and races the same course, which usually incorporates aspects such as hilly terrain that are designed to challenge the runner.
As they charge around the course (9k for men, 6k for women) there comes a point when physical conditioning is not enough and a runner’s mental conditioning becomes a factor. It is this mental conditioning that affects the runner’s placement at the finish line. The runner pushes on through the competition while negotiating the course, unable to rest or reflect on personal performance until the race is over. As the runners pass the finish line, their places are recorded and added to the places of the rest of the team. The team with the lowest collective place wins.
“You can have four guys finish in the top ten, but if your No. 5 guy finishes in 57th place then there is a chance your team will not place,” USF coach Greg Thiel said. “It really is the ultimate team sport.”
It is this competitive twist that makes cross-country so challenging. Not only do the athletes have to face the elements, but they also must deal with the pressure of ensuring a good team placement.
A runner has to be prepared to push through pain, to keep other teams at bay while concentrating on breathing and running the race with skill. Physical conditioning is important to improve time and distance, but the only measure of mental aspects is the end of the race.
USF will host this year’s Conference USA title meet and it plans to use the course and the Florida sun to its advantage. The conference titles for men and women are in reach, but it won’t be easy for either team. Charlotte and Marquette have solid teams and will pose an obstacle for both the men and the women. Hopefully the home field advantage will help the USF runners.
This year’s C-USA title match will be held Nov. 1 at the Claw, the USF golf course. This year’s event should prove to be close, but the Bulls’ team is well conditioned and ready to give any team a run for their money.