There's no such thing as a lazy summer for those who run cross country at the highest level. A successful season begins months before the first runner toes the line in September. It starts way before teams reconvene for official practices. It starts in the early heat of summer.
"[Summer training] is important because it's where you get most of your strength and speed," Garden City's Steph Gerland said.
Gerland is the top returner on Long Island. Last season, she placed sixth at the New York Federation Championships at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls, running the 5K course in 18 minutes, 45.3 seconds. The finish was the highest among Island girls.
Three weeks later, Gerland placed seventh in the New York race at the Nike Cross Regionals, also run at Bowdoin Park, in 18:39.2, qualifying her for Nike Nationals in Portland, Oregon.
Two weeks after the conclusion of the spring season, Gerland began prepping for her junior year, one she hopes will yield a top three performance at the New York Public School Championships, a top five finish at the Federation meet, and another trip to Portland.
And, right beside Steph as she clocked an estimated 40-50 miles per week, was her older sister and teammate, Jen. No longer was it a monotonous trek through solo mileage. No, not with another teammate there, and someone you've known for your entire life.
"We're both similar in pace, so it's good to do workouts together," Jen said. "It's good to have someone to run with. At times it's tense because we're racing each other all the time but, at the end of the day, we're on the same team and we're sisters. We use each other to push each other further."
Jen has goals of her own for her final cross country season with the Trojans. She would like to finish in the top 10 at the New York Public School Championships and join her sister in Portland.
Jen placed second to Steph in the Class II county championships last season, running the Bethpage State Park 5K in 19:18.1.
Both Gerland sisters believe that their individual confidence level, a major component for a good racer, is significantly higher than last season, but for different reasons.
Steph credits her trip to nationals last December for the improved mindset.
"I learned that you have to be focused going into races and you have to make sure that you're not intimidated by racing someone that's really fast," she said of her Portland trip. " . . . I wanted to get the experience. I learned a lot about how to race the nation's best."
Jen points to her time at the Five-Star Cross Country Camp that the girls attended this summer in Rock Hill, New York. On top of physical training, Jen said the five-day camp featured a "mental training" component that helped her greatly.
"I feel like I can stop worrying about everyone else because the real purpose of running is to do your best, focus on yourself, and take each step of the race [individually]," she said. "I feel more mentally strong and have more confidence to go to the front. I'm excited to start racing because I have a new confidence . . . That helped me in my training and I feel like it'll help me go a lot faster."
Two focused, confident Gerlands may be tough for the rest of Nassau to top.