Orchestral cicadas greet the rhythmic footfalls of skeletal twenty-somethings on a muggy July dawn. Out here, there are no lectures, no wolfed-down meals between classes, nor is there, in fact, any notion of obligation outside of placing one colorfully shod foot in front of the other. This symphonic moment of training is just one small piece of what it means to be a college runner. It is representative of a process, a process that, come November, will invariably reach its climax in goals achieved and dreams vindicated. Summer for college runners is merely a time to form the groundwork for what is to come. These hour long concertos with nature, these seventy and eighty mile weeks, these sessions of sweat, these suppressions of the psychological forces demanding the body to stop; these will eventually manifest themselves in time dropped over eight thousand meters on a cross country course. But for now, the footfalls stop, the insects’ cacophony seems to dim, and the minds and bodies of these athletes prepare themselves to repeat this musical ritual the following day.
This quasi-religious obsession with the relentless, the monotonous, and the droning may seem wholly irrational to the casual onlooker. One could ask who these wraiths are, gliding seamlessly over the wood chip paths, the sidewalks, and the mud tracks that bisect the city, the suburbs, and the countryside. These seemingly spectral apparitions are not some secret cult. They are merely the members of a running team, a team that has not seen this accumulation of talent since its heyday of a few years ago when it hosted newly minted Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo. There is a sense among these athletes that something special is to be made of this season. Never before have so many athletes on the UNCG cross-country roster had the potential to breach the coveted twenty-six minute barrier over the customary eight-kilometer distance. Nor, either, has there ever been this steely focus, this intense drive, or this communal will to fight simultaneously for yourself and for the man in the blue and gold jersey flicking up dirt next to you.
These moments, these people that are more than just friends or family, these mental states of willful ignorance of the body’s cries to be still are what it means to be a cross-country runner at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. The long summers are spent slowly building up one’s fitness in preparation for a season that will come in five or six races then go out sealed forever in minds and in results lists. Following a short break after the outdoor track season, UNCG cross-country athletes will begin small, running perhaps only twenty to thirty minutes every other day. When humid August rolls around, these same athletes will be built up to running an hour or more every day, often adding secondary runs of thirty to forty minutes in the evenings three or four days of the week. This same rite will be repeated as the early months of the semester pass. Following these months of scrupulous training that never seem to end, the runners will toe the line and reap what their training sowed.
This year, the team will begin the competitive season with shorter local races. Late September will present the first competition at the full 8k distance, which in imperial units comes up just shy of five miles. This contest will be held on the University of Notre Dame’s course on September 30. After a week’s hiatus from competition, the South Bend, Indiana meet will be followed up by a trip to the storied Princeton University, where the Spartans will face off against the big dogs of the ACC, the Ivy League, and others on October 15. The real test will come in the meets that follow – the Southern Conference Championship and the Southeast Regional Championship, which will be held on October 30 at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and the University of Virginia on November 11, respectively. UNCG’s blue and gold will seek to improve on last year’s fifth place finish at the conference meet, hoping for a top three finishing that would grant a return to the podium, a feat last achieved in 2012. The Spartans look forward to your support.