From the easy, relaxed manner the distance runners on the men’s track team warm up, stretch and laugh with each other before practice, it is often hard to tell that only a few minutes later they will get down to the business of intense training.

Distance runners race in events of and over 1,600 meters. During this Bulldogs’ indoor season, the distance corps has been the most successful section of the team, consistently earning points for the Elis as well as qualifying to race in the regional IC4A’s. But this success has not come easily to these runners. Coached by Daniel Ireland, they have to train for success every day of the week.

Ireland, who works solely with the distance runners, has been described as organized, honest and upfront. He helps keep the team focused and determines the training for the week.

“Things need to be disciplined for the runners because it takes the pressure of practice off them,” Ireland said. “They know in the beginning of the week what they need to do so they can be mentally prepared and steady.”

Ireland aims to keep the training regular. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are easier days, when the team focuses on drills, recovery and technique. Tuesdays’ workouts are long and feature increased intensity. This Tuesday, the distance runners either ran two sets of four half-miles at race pace or went on an eight mile tempo run averaging 5:15 miles. Thursdays are challenging but not as difficult as Tuesdays. Saturdays feature meets or hard, fast and short workouts. Each week ends with long runs, ranging in distances from 10 miles to 16 miles.

During hard practices, Ireland stands on a blue block calling out encouragement while updating the runners of their times from four different stop watches he has going. As practice continues, any spectator can pick up the signs of fatigue on the athletes: hands on hips, deep breaths, sweaty brows, glazed eyes. The intensity never tapers, though, and the runners still manage to high-five and support each other through the workout.

Ireland said that one of the reasons that he works the runners hard in practice is so that they get used to focusing through the fatigue of races.

“This way they will go into races with an idea of what is going to happen and what it will feel like and when,” Ireland said. “I try to prepare them for every possibility.”

Casey Moriarty ’05, who is fourth in the Ivies for the 3,000-meter, said Ireland deserves a lot of credit for turning the program around. Moriarty said the hardest but best workouts for him are those in which he cannot get into any kind of rhythm.

“This constant shifting from endurance to speed is hard, but it is good for races because you never know what will happen in a race,” Moriarty said. “Coach [Ireland] likes to simulate race conditions.”

For the distance runners, mental training matters almost as much as physical training. Keeping focus is one of the hardest things to do during races that are anywhere from eight-25 laps around a track, according to Moriarty.

“It’s hard to concentrate, but you really need that,” Moriarty said. “It is a mind game and if you even once don’t watch the guy in front of you and instead think about how many laps you have left or how tired you are, you will lose.”

Josh Yelsey ’05, another distance veteran, said this season, healthiness and smarter training have helped the Elis perform well. He said ice baths after strenuous workouts have kept the team almost injury-free.

“The ice baths help flush your body of lactic acid, which can hurt your muscles,” Yelsey said. “The problem is they are really, really, really cold. The first two or three minutes are pretty terrible, but you get used to it.”

Yelsey currently stands as the fastest miler in the Ivy League with less than four weeks until the conference meet. Yelsey said he has run well by building on the fall’s successful cross country season.

“I have been running the mile my entire running career, and I know how to break it down and run it,” Yelsey said. “This year, though, I ran individually well in the fall and I have gained a lot of strength from that.”

The Bulldogs would not be anywhere close to where they are today if they did not have a strong sense of camaraderie and partnership. Andrew Pitts ’07, who hopes to break the record for the freshman mile, said the shared goal of winning as a team helps unite the runners.

“Everyone is there to help each other and focus, but we don’t even think about that,” Pitts said. “We all want to win, and that’s what really brings us together.

David Napper ’07, who has already qualified for IC4A’s in the 5,000-meter, agreed with Pitts.

“Being able to train and work out with guys that are all dedicated is great,” Napper said. “It really brings you along in your training.”