For Kevin Lunn ’13, captain of the men’s 2012 cross country team, distance running is like having a “super needy, high-maintenance girlfriend.”
“She yells at me on Sunday morning if I went out the night before,” he said. “She tells me when to eat, when to study and when to go to bed. But at the end of the day, we are in love, and I can’t imagine living without her.”
Yale distance runners face a unique challenge and opportunity: three consecutive seasons. With cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter and outdoor track in the spring, they must be competition-ready at all times. “Distance running is more of a lifestyle than a sport,” Lunn said. “You can’t buy into it for a couple months and then put it aside to concentrate on something else for a bit.”
While other athletes have an off-season semester during which they can be “normal students,” said Matthew Thwaites ’13, runners do not have time to rest. The longest break comes in November, as not every cross country runner competes in NCAA Regional Championships, held last year November 12. Many who do sit out the NCAA Regional Championships forgo the first track and field meet, the Yale Season Opener, on Dec. 3.
Another opportunity to rest comes in the first two weeks of summer vacation. Nihal Kayali ’13, captain of the 2012 women’s cross country team, said this is a “welcome shock.”
Of the five runners interviewed, all said that the lack of an off-season was more of a benefit than a drawback. They said year-round training keeps them focused, draws them closer to the team and makes them better runners.
“Constantly pushing yourself and slowly wearing away the rubber on your shoes — that’s what makes you good,” Thwaites said.
Such an approach does have its risks. Any sickness or injuries will inevitably conflict with competition. Kayali said the chance for overuse injuries also increases with a constant training regimen.
Even summer is not an off-season. Rather, through workouts of up to 100 miles a week, distance runners aim to build a solid foundation for the next year of competition.
“Summer is the time to build a base mileage that determines how fast you’re going to run in the fall,” Lunn said. “It’s like building a car — you can put on great wheels and a fancy spoiler, but it’s just going to be embarrassing if you’ve got the engine of a Ford Pinto in there.”
Elizabeth Marvin ’13 added this consistency is a plus. With three consecutive seasons, distance runners can fall into a comfortable rhythm. Kayali said the transition from season to season was “seamless,” whereas for sprinters, jumpers and throwers on the track and field team it may be more jarring.
But the ultimate benefit for many is simple — more opportunities to compete.
“Competing is probably the most fun [aspect], and the fact that we have three seasons makes it all the more worthwhile,” Kayali said. “There’s no fun in training if we’re not going to compete, so we’re lucky.”
The lack of an off-season is more of a necessity than a hassle, Michael Cunetta ’14 said, because distance runners cannot afford a respite from running.
In the end, though, Lunn understands that all athletes, regardless of their sports, just want to improve.
“I’d say distance running is unique, but it’s nothing too special,” Lunn said. “Any athletes with true passion for their sport will consider it a lifestyle and will always be thinking about how to get better, even if they do have an official ‘off season.’ ”
The men’s and women’s track and field teams will next meet at Ivy League Heptagonal Championships on Feb. 25 and 26.