I took the team to Mammoth last month. We've gone every year since 2006 for a week of high altitude training. It's medieval the way I push the kids, running twice a day for a week on mountain trails that are never flat, and in fact always seem to go uphill. For the seniors it's a getaway they look forward to all year, second only to our Hawaii trip in terms of getting away from parental supervision and hanging out with friends. But it's not so easy for the freshmen. Not only are they running ridiculous mileage at 7,000 feet of altitude, but they're stuck in a condo with a group of relative strangers. The routines and comforts of home are hundreds of miles away. A single week looms before them like a sentence.

It's that way every year. Doesn't matter if it's boy or girl, tough or not, freshmen have a tough time in Mammoth. No amount of team bonding exercises or communal ice bathing in the creek seems to make a dent.

This year, one of our freshmen was having that sort of tough week. There was talk of wanting to go home. The athlete in question didn't know me well enough at the time to really trust me — to see that Mammoth has a purpose (it's about team building, not training) and that sticking it out would be a stepping stone to greater mental and physical toughness. Need to callous the mind any way we can.

It all came to a head a couple days in. We were running the Rock Trail, a spending climb through five riparian zones that offers stunning views of Mammoth meadow and just as many opportunities to embrace the suffering that comes with a three mile climb (and rock'n'rolling back down the three-mile descent). My buddy Hempy was one of the chaperones. He was running sweep, staying behind the kids to make sure no one got lost. It's a safety precaution.

At one point, Hempy fell in behind the kid who was having a hard go of it. They struck up a conversation. The athlete let it slip that he wasn't sure he would last the week. 

Hempy is a marathoner and a scratch golfer. He could have chosen an analogy from either sport to set the kid's mind at ease. Thankfully, he chose running. "Sometimes when you run a marathon you feel like quitting," Hempy admitted. "So the trick is to tell yourself, 'I'm going to make it to the next tree and then I can stop.' But when you get to that tree, you tell yourself you can't stop until you make it to the next tree. And tree by tree, that's how you get through the race."

That became the mantra for the week: One more tree. When things got low, one more tree. When the week stretched too long, one more tree. When that last hill repeat seemed undoable, one more tree (literally: the group ran up the hill we call Devil's Sandbox to a turnaround point three trees up the mountain).

Hempy's words did the trick. A new confidence arose from that runner, who made it through the rest of the week with apparent ease. I'd never seen that side of Hempy before and it was truly amazing to watch.

One more tree.

Can't go wrong with that mantra.