Runners rise and shine earlier than most


By Scott Akanewich

All of them rise well before the sun each morning.

Who are these gluttons of punishment who chose to begin their respective days even before local roosters sound off with their trademark alarm?

Liberty Hill’s cross country squad, that’s who.

With the start of school already in the rear-view mirror, those 7 a.m. practices, which had already been taking place, just got bumped back even earlier – 6 a.m.

It’s dark for another hour and the runners’ brains are still filled with equations and grammar from homework finished only a few hours earlier.

Of all of the Panthers’ varsity teams, only the trail runners conduct workouts before school each day, which makes each one that much longer and leaves less turnaround from one day to the next.

However, cross country runners aren’t your typical garden-variety athletes, as the very nature of their chosen sport involves much suffering and discomfort under any conditions. But now add inconvenience to that list and you’ve got one trying daily routine, which can ultimately rear its ugly head in the form of diminished race results if not managed properly, said Liberty Hill head coach Kim Holt.

“Now that school has started, the kids will be doing homework – sometimes staying up late, so this can affect their performance,” she said. “But, this is just part of the sport. We hope they manage their time properly so they can get enough rest. Some of them even have jobs, so there are many factors.”  

Another obstacle, which can be a potential roadblock to running success, is the simple fact once school begins, many things clamor for attention that weren’t there before the first bell of the fall rang. But Holt said despite possible distractions moving in, her athletes are more than capable of weathering the physical and psychological storms brought on by a typical, busy teenage existence.

“Sometimes it can be difficult, but for the most part, these kids love the sport or they wouldn’t be out there and I think they want to do well – they’re all working so hard,” she said. “As the season goes on, there are many factors involved and we as coaches try to help the kids deal with things the best we can.  Getting up early for practice and then school and then homework makes for a very long day, but these kids are tough and they work hard at practice and at school.”

But, it’s not only the athletes whose mettle is tested once school is back in session – the coaches, who are also teachers – are also loaded down with heavy schedules.

“Well, it’s a lot of work and it’s a very long day for us, too,” said Holt, who teaches college algebra. “Sometimes it gets stressful, but we love the kids and we love coaching them. Seeing them do well at the meets makes me forget about all the stress.”

Holt added the newness and excitement of a brand new school year can actually enhance the entire experience for her team.

“I think it helps,” she said. “I know the kids are excited for their first meet on Sept. 12, so with the start of school it just helps bring that a little closer.”

By the way, throw in new health and safety guidelines due to a global pandemic and the equation is even more daunting, but not anything her runners can’t handle in stride, said Holt.

“We have to do some extra stuff in the mornings with COVID going on, but it hasn’t really affected us,” she said. “We do our check-ins in the morning, then we get to practice. I know it will be different at the meets this year with the kids wearing masks while not racing and spectators wearing masks, but I think the kids have adjusted and they’re ready to race.”