Rain, heat making life difficult for XC team


By Keith Sparks

Typically, a cross country course’s terrain is one of the few variables from one race to the next, but on occasion, mother nature seems to be working against the runners. For example, Saturday’s race in Liberty Hill began just a few hours after a rainstorm that created water crossings, mud pits, and slippery areas that can cause issues for runners.

As the host of the race, Liberty Hill Head Coach Kim Holt was responsible for setting up the course and making sure the conditions were good enough to race. As of Friday night, Holt said the course had just one water crossing and little to no mud, but by Saturday morning, things had changed.

“We were out there all day Friday getting the course ready, and it was kind of damp, but it didn’t rain at all Friday, so it was damp but there was just one really, really small water crossing,” Holt said. “That night it started pouring, so we go out there the next morning and there are, like, four water crossings now. It wasn’t terribly muddy, but it was muddy in some spots, and there’s really nothing we could do for those water crossings or the mud. We just had to go with it.”

Although the conditions made the race more difficult for the runners, Holt said it may give her team an advantage in the future. As an example, Holt referenced the State Meet four years ago, which took place in the middle of a rainstorm. After Saturday’s race, Holt is confident that her team will at least be somewhat prepared for similar conditions in the future.

“I had a couple girls that ran in the State Meet four years ago and it was that horrible, horrible day where they made us run in pouring rain and mud was everywhere,” Holt said. “We talked about that and we talked about if it was State or if it was Regionals, we might have to be running in something like this, so I’m kind of glad it happened so they can prepare for maybe having a meet like that in the future.”

The UIL does have restrictions regarding whether or not a race can take place during a lightning storm, but Holt said there is nothing in the rulebook about running in muddy conditions. As the host, it was up to her whether or not to move forward with the race. Despite the conditions, Holt never considered postponing or canceling the race, and it seems like the other coaches agreed.

“Our plan was to go for it, because we’d hate to lose a meet,” Holt said. “We were going to go for it as best we could, unless it was just flooded out there. We told the schools our plan was to have the meet and we’ll keep you updated.”

For the runners, Saturday’s conditions may have made the race even more fun than usual. After all, who doesn’t love a good trounce in the mud?

“Most of the schools were happy we were having it,” Holt said. “It was muddy, but I think the kids had lots of fun, because they kept saying it was like a Tough Mudder race.”

Rain isn’t the only weather condition that can make a cross country race more difficult than usual. Although the Panthers’ previous race at Vista Ridge on Aug. 24 was relatively dry, temperatures reached a high of 103, leading to a number of runners passing out on the course.

As a coach, Holt said the only thing she can do to prepare her runners for such conditions is to make sure they’re drinking plenty of water during the days leading up to the race. Those that are “lucky” enough to have their athletic period later in the day have the advantage, if you can call it that, of getting more accustomed to running in hotter temperatures.

“We try to tell them to make sure they drink water the day before the race,” Holt said. “We try to talk to them about dehydration. We practice in the morning, so we really don’t run during the day. For those that are in the athletic period during the day, we do some stuff outside so they can get accustomed to the heat.”

As a whole, Holt said the runners’ times at the Vista Ridge meet were a bit slower than usual, which likely had something to do with the weather. For the most part, better weather leads to faster times.

“If it’s a nice, cool day, their times are going to be better,” Holt said. “It’s harder to run in that kind of heat, so it does affect their times.”

Holt said a lack of trainers at the Vista Ridge meet was apparent as runners began to pass out from dehydration, requiring assistance from local ambulances to make up for it. To ensure he wasn’t one of those runners, Panther cross country’s Cade Cole came prepared.

“I just try to hydrate myself, stay loose by stretching, and eat a good meal, because you have to get something in you before the race,” Cole said.

Once he got on the course, Cole said it became a mental struggle. Breathing and staying motivated become even more difficult when the weather is working against you.

“It’s hot, but you’ve just got to keep pushing yourself,” Cole said. “You’ve got to know that now is not the time to give up. Just keep going, and you have to make sure you control your breathing better. At times, it can be harder to breathe.”

As the season progresses, concerns about the heat transition to concerns about the cold. For now, however, conditions are only improving for the Panther cross country team.