The Class B girls start their race at the Nassau...

The Class B girls start their race at the Nassau cross country state qualifier at Bethpage State Park on Saturday, November 9, 2019. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

Although hope for a fall cross country season still exists, local high school runners have been forced to consider the possibility of a complete shake up of scheduling norms should conditions change.

Last month, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced the delay of the fall sports season to Sept. 21, following the recommendations of its COVID-19 task force. As a backup, the state also released plans for three condensed seasons that would tentatively begin January 4. That plan would put cross country in the middle of indoor and outdoor track and field.

Under the proposed plan, indoor track and field, also known as winter track, would go from Jan. 4 – Mar. 13, with cross country being run from Mar. 1 – May 8, and outdoor track and field lasting from April 5- June 12.

For those that lost their spring sports season and now face the prospect of missing the fall as well, moving cross country, rather than eliminating it, is a welcome alternative.

“If they can’t have cross country in the fall, then that would be a great idea,” said Eastport – South Manor senior Michael Silveri of the potential move. “Cross country is definitely my favorite season out of the three and I think, for a lot of distance runners, that’s the same story.”

For those athletes who compete in all three seasons, this shift would obviously disrupt the normal flow of a high school running year. Cross country season, the results of which are a product of over two months of intense summer training, would now come after two months of racing at shorter distances. While most cross country races are 5-kilometers (3.1 miles), the longest commonly run track events are approximately two miles.

“It’s definitely going to be different, but everybody’s had to adjust to a new kind of lifestyle this year,” said Ward Melville senior Briana Grant. “So, it’s just going to be another thing that everybody’s going to have to adjust to. It’s definitely going to be a little weird because I use cross country as a kick off, getting me going again, and getting my legs moving. It really sets me up for winter track.”

Now, with winter track theoretically setting up cross country, the event selection for indoor runners may shift away from middle distance and move towards longer races, Silveri said.

“I think over the winter, instead of doing more speed training and stuff like that, distance runners would have to do a little bit more mileage, just to be ready when cross country comes around in March,” Silveri said. “…. I think more people will run the 3,200 than the 1,600 or the 1,000.”

And that works just fine for Silveri, who is the fastest returning Long Islander from last fall’s cross country state championships.

“The longer, the better for me,” he said. “I’ve always had pretty good endurance, so I think going from a 3,200 to a 5K shouldn’t be too much of an issue considering that I’ll have plenty of base training from the summer. I don’t see an issue. But, I know some kids that run 1,600s or (1,000’s) might struggle because that’s a whole two miles extra.”

Westhampton junior Gavin Ehlers, who ran everything from the 1,000 to the 3,200 last winter, agreed with Silveri, and even went a step further.

“On the other side of things, if winter track comes first, I could see guys that are 800 or mile guys not racing in cross country, just because they don’t want to go up in mileage and go back down in the spring,” Ehlers said.

However, there could be a positive side to the schedule change, the runners said. Running mile and two-mile races in the months before 5Ks commence would act as increased speed training, which may lead to faster times.

“It’ll definitely help open up my stride,” Grant said. “I’ll be able to push faster and longer for cross country.”

Weather will also play a big factor if cross country moves to March and April. During a normal fall season, runners are used to crisp, cool air and, generally, little precipitation for the majority of the schedule. This would obviously be different in March, where conditions may feature the remanences of a harsh winter, or April, when rainy weather could negatively affect times.

“If you get one of those rain storms in the beginning of April, there’s not much you can do about that. It’s going to be a slop-fest,” Ehlers said. “There’s just going to be a ton of mud and (it’s) not really going to be fast at all.”  

Silveri is confident that runners can handle whatever comes their way, regardless of the conditions.

“I think it’ll just be backwards,” Silveri said. “It’ll go from cold to hot instead of hot to cold. I think cross country runners can handle that, because they’re used to it. I think it will be more allergies that’ll hurt people. I have pretty bad allergies in April and May, so hopefully if they do something then, that that won’t be too much of a problem.”

Still, runners are hopeful that none of this comes into play and they find themselves at Sunken Meadow State Park at some point this fall. Like always, they are ready to run.

“I’m just trying to hold on to the hope that we have some kind of season in the fall because I think that’s when cross country is really supposed to be run. It’s a fall sport,” Silveri said. “I’m just training (like usual), getting those miles in, a couple workouts here and there, just to get ready for the season if there is one. When the races do come, I’ll be ready for them.”

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