Taking a redshirt season sucks. It doesn’t matter if you are injured or just taking one to get another season later on, they suck. The season just drags on and on and there seems to be no end to when you will race again. I took a redshirt during the cross country season my first 4th year of school (yes, I took 5 years to graduate). It was by choice, but it left the varsity team very young with little experience and leadership. The entire team was comprised of Freshmen and Sophomores, with the exception of one Senior, who had stopped caring approximately two years earlier. There was no rock for this team to stand on, and come sink or swim, this team sank fast.
Competing interests, no real leadership, and a brewing coup against The Process (my coach’s method of coaching) lead to a season that, although I never raced, truly regret. It was a daily struggle for me to be a leader. All I could to was hope my actions of doing what was asked of me would speak louder than the words of those around me, because in their eyes I wasn’t a teammate, I was just another runner who trained with them but didn’t travel.
Twice weekly long runs are a cantankerous issue for the Freshmen every year. Most come from a High School program where long means 8 miles, 15 or more. They had never learned to focus, or not focus, on running for that long, and it was always one of the first challenges the upperclassmen faced each year on getting them to stop complaining and run each year. The teams first long run together that season was a scheduled 17 miles and the night before, I heard from my coach that it was going to be done on Antelope Creek Road, South and East of Rapid City, SD.
Antelope Creek Road is a dirt road off of which can only be seen a few farms and a lot of cows. The road starts off going South for 3 miles, then runs almost due East for 10 miles before turning North to connect into a state highway, where it works its way North and East from there. For me, the start of this road in Rapid City marks the start of the Great Plains. No longer are you in the Black Hills or the high plains of Montana and Wyoming to your West, you are in the wind swept, sun baked portion of the country where tornados touch down. I can lose myself running here, yet I would never be lost.
Now back to the 17 miles at hand.
The keys to any long run are controlling the pace and wearing a pair of shorts that have been tested over distance. I was wearing a good pair of shorts, but having a hard time controlling the pace. We were told to stay as a group at 7 minutes per mile, but the young runners were pushing the pace, excited to get out and prove something. There was a time and place for putting them in their place but this wasn’t it. I let them go and waited to see if anyone would realize it might be beneficial to follow the lead of someone with the experience of running this far before. Only one sophomore stayed with me and didn’t forge on ahead.
I kept the rest of the team in my sight, but by mile 10 I had either gone passed them all or they were about to be picked up by Coach. By then, the sophomore and I had picked up a freshman who would complete another 5 miles with us before having to stop right around the time road turned North.
Tired and satisfied, I climbed back into a full, yet silent van. Coach had the morning talk shows going over the radio and we all road in silence back into town. While there wasn’t much said, this run was a great teaching point for the team. A foundation had been laid and a bar set. Without words, I had made the standard clear for the team. Even though I was not racing that year, no drop off in work ethic or mileage would be allowed. The team was going to have to work hard for what it wanted.
I let the miles do the talking that day, as I would come to do many more days that season.