There are thirty-seven days to the State Meet. Five weeks and change.
Take away Sundays, which cross country's local governing body has declared "no practice" days, and we're down to thirty-three days to get better. Consider that we'll have at least two recovery days per week, and that lowers the number to twenty-three chances to improve. If all goes well, my teams have four more race days on the schedule, which reduces that number to nineteen. We'll do a little workout after each of those races — a short run just to keep the volume high. But I'm still going to stick with nineteen.
Yikes. Back when practice first started in June, there was no end to the variations I could throw at the team. A little tempo, some LT, hill repeats, long runs. But now everything needs to be just so. Each workout must accomplish the eventual task of winning State. At this time last year I made a critical blunder in my coaching, thinking my teams were so good that we could take our foot off the gas in training in the hopes of being sharp and rested for State. That did not work out well. A couple of third-place finishes got us on the podium but we were better than that.
This year we're a little lower in the rankings. I'm OK with flying under the radar. We're a little banged up and haven't raced consistently. A few teams that I do not enjoy losing to have schooled us. A few teams whose coaches I admire, and whom I still do not enjoy losing to, have also schooled us.
But I really believe our finest hour is upon us. I have nineteen chances to utilize our enormous aerobic base and craft two championship teams. This is not a time to take the foot off the gas, but a golden opportunity to go all in, challenging the athletes and my coaching staff to do something amazing. My dreams — actual nighttime dreams, usually the sort that come just before rising — are consumed with the nuances of training. I'm actually questioning my training methodology in my sleep. A constant focus on those small details pervades each day, as well. Add it to the intense detail of researching the new book and it makes for a growing detachment between the real and the theoretical.
Which begs the question of why? Will the sky fall down if we don't win State?
Frankly, until I typed that sentence I had not once let myself ask that question. Of course we're going to win. And we're going to win for the right reasons. Bruce Springsteen was recently asked about the importance of the E Street Band. He responded by saying they didn't have "the best musicians, but the right ones."
In the case of my teams, I believe we not only have the right runners, we have the best ones, too. I've coached a lot of teams comprised of charismatic malcontents. These teams aren't like that. They're solid kids who know how to win, just so long as their coach gives them the tools to do so. I coddle them with custom uniforms and daily post-workout chocolate milk. We joke about who's got a date for homecoming and who doesn't. But underneath the banter is the awareness that we're counting down the days to that moment in late November when I will ask them to be the very best they have ever been.
In the meantime, it is my turn.