Long Runs in the Pouring Rain with Gaithersburg and Wootton - 8/23/14 By Kevin Milsted
In his 42nd year of coaching cross country at Gaithersburg High School, Herb Tolbert looked spry as he finished a 70 minute run in the rain with his team at Lake Needwood on Saturday morning. The retired guidance counselor reflected on the past and looked towards the future as he dropped hints towards his retirement from coaching.
"I'm still enthusiastic and I still enjoy it," said Tolbert, "but if my wife retires in June, I'll give it up. We realize we're not getting any younger. We want to travel and do things."
Tolbert spoke of the legacy he hopes to leave behind. The Montgomery County Championship Meet hosted by Gaithersburg High School is among his proudest accomplishments.
"Hopefully the county meet will continue on. We've been doing it for 14 years. It's a labor of love, but we definitely enjoy doing it."
This will be the 14th year that the county championship meet will be hosted by Gaithersburg High School. After rotating through different sites in the 90's, Tolbert and the GHS athletic department stepped forward in 2000 to host the championship meet on school grounds with the the middle portion of the 5k course adjacent to the campus in Bohrer Park. The meet was initially held on a Thursday after school. In 2001, the meet moved to a Saturday morning which enhanced the championship feel and importance of the meet. In 2002, the meet was almost canceled due to concerns over sniper attacks terrorizing the DC area. The meet was moved to Poolesville Middle School before returning to the GHS campus in 2003. In 2011, the course was changed to its current layout with the entire 5k contested in Bohrer Park due to construction on the school campus. Construction of the new GHS building is complete, and the championship course is likely to remain in its current format unless somebody decides to make a change.
There is more to Tolbert's legacy than organizing the county meet. He holds the distinction of coaching the first female high school cross country runner in Montgomery County in 1972 and 1973 before it became an official team sport for girls. He coached two individual cross country state champions as well as several state champions on the track. In 2000, he coached the Gaithersburg boys to win the 4A cross country state title.
Gaithersburg returns just two of its top five boys from the team that finished tenth in the 4A West and missed out on qualifying for the state championship last year. The Gaithersburg girls have not qualified for states since 2002. There are no delusions about this year's team winning a state title, but if this is Tolbert's final year of coaching, he would love to end on a high note.
"I'm about to finish, and I'd love to get back [to states]," said Tolbert.
Wootton High School began its Saturday morning XC practice about an hour after Gaithersburg High School on the fields of Lake Needwood. Storm clouds threatened and then unleashed a driving rain on the jumbo-sized Wootton team during warm-up drills. The prescribed workout was a 40, 50, or 70 minute long run at a comfortable, conversational pace. The duration of the run for each athlete was based on summer training and "running age."
Head Coach Kellie Redmond kept close tabs on her runners throughout the summer, using team captains as ear pieces into the training of each and every athlete. The 3 male and 3 female team captains split up and organized morning and evening practices so that all members of the team had more options and fewer excuses. Even freshmen were expected to participate over the summer after they committed to the team in the spring.
The boys of the highest "running age" logged upwards of 50 miles per week with a peak of 60 miles at the Concord Retreat Cross Country Running Camp.
Senior team captains Nathan Nadal and Patrick Munro expressed confidence in their summer training and the depth of their team beyond the strong trio upfront of Munro, Nadal and Colin SyBing.
Said Munro, "We were training for states - not early in the season. We were in the 50's most of the summer. It didn't feel like over-training."
Redmond mirrored the satisfaction in the summer training.
"The guys worked hard. They got the base miles in...knock on wood everyone is healthy. I feel good for where we are."
The Wootton girls team lost 2 of its top 3 and 3 of its top 7 girls to graduation. Grace Dellapa returns as the team's top runner with a lot of youth and inexperience behind her. Senior team captain Kylie Yassin will provide leadership, but even she only has one year of experience on the team.
Assistant Coach Jake Buxton describes the young girls team as athletic and tough, implying that there is a lot of potential in the dedicated girls they have.
"I want to get the girls back to states," said Redmond - never a given in the 4A West.
She added, "I fully expect we'll be progressing dramatically as the season progresses."
Intervals at the Towers with St. Andrew's Episcopal - 8/23/14 By Sean O'Leary
Most cross country teams in southern Montgomery County possess a roster the size of a small army, but the St. Andrew's Episcopal School boys' team might consider their numbers more consistent with a special forces unit. However, if Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson have taught the world anything, all it takes is "a few good men."
Fresh off of a team-building trip to Harper's Ferry, the small squad met at the WMAL Towers on Saturday morning. With overcast skies that threatened rain, it seems that the dog days of summer are quickly giving way to the falling of leaves consistent with the start of the racing season. The boys firmly believe they are ready, as they recently spent a week in North Carolina performing what they called "pre-pre-season work" by logging consistent 6-7 mile runs. Given the graduation of former top runner Alex Armbruster, who will be competing for Georgetown this fall, the group knows that they need to put in a good amount of work to repeat as the Private Small School state champions.
Head coach Mike Davila knows the competition will be stiff as usual. "The Heights School has always been a big rival of ours," he explained, "and we've always got a few schools in Annapolis to worry about as well." While the team's numbers will balloon to around 25 runners from the current 13 once the school year begins, he's made sure that his group has a head-start towards meeting their self-stated goal of returning to the top 3 within the MAC.
Most of the team performed 6x1000m repeats at threshold pace on the grassy terrain, while junior Bobby Radecki went above and beyond the call of duty by completing 8 intervals. Even with taking a day off every week, Bobby still managed to log between 40 and 45 miles per week over the summer. He made sure to include a moderately paced 10-mile effort most weeks in an attempt to be able to handle a higher volume of interval work. By the looks of things, his training is already paying off.
Public school students might be dreading starting back up with classes next week, but the St. Andrew's boys have another few days to enjoy what's left of the summer. They will cap off their base phase preparation with a season-opening scrimmage at Landon on Wednesday.
Intervals Under the Lights with Einstein - 8/21/14 By Sean O'Leary
Summer cross country practices are typically reserved for the early morning hours, but the Einstein boys and girls' teams have recently made a tradition of coordinating one night practice prior to the beginning of the school year. As the sun set on the track around 8 p.m., Coach Eric DaSilva arranged for his athletes to complete between 8 and 13 400m repeats, depending on each athlete's current level of fitness, with 100m of jogging recovery. Knowing that running faster repetitions under the lights might lead to a surge of adrenaline in some, DaSilva was quick to caution his young squads as to the purpose of the day's running: learning to "feel" race pace while staying relaxed.
"We've got a lot of youngun's, and I really want them to not become slaves to a watch," DaSilva explained.
The day's purpose had to be repeated to many overly zealous returners, but DaSilva was not terribly worried with the level of effort put in by his veterans. The boys have logged considerable mileage over the summer, with the top athletes having consistently stuck around 50 miles per week.
On the other side of things, the girls are currently battling what seems like a plague of injury and important life commitments. With two athletes recovering from stress fractures, and three more unable to attend the day's practice, top returner Ciciely Davy was left to work out with the boys.
However, it seems like this is something that Ciciely is getting used to by now. She actually made an effort to run with her male teammates over the summer in an attempt to make a jump to the next level. With her sights set on helping her team learn to "run without fear," she turned heads by whizzing along at 5:30 pace.
Ciciely's male counterpart on the night was Alejandro Arias, who led a pack of boys that hope to break into the varsity squad. DaSilva is keeping his eyes out for an underclassman to fill the ever-so-important #5 spot, but by the looks of things, he won't need to look very far into such a motivated group.
If the goal of the night practice was to break up the monotony of pre-season running, then by all measures the evening's session was a rousing success. Nevertheless, DaSilva is still skeptical of the new tradition.
"We'll see how they feel tomorrow morning," he chuckled.
A return to the normal morning practice schedule might prove to be a harsh snap back into reality. But judging from the enthusiasm all around the track, it's hard to think this young group wouldn't attack the next day's workout with the same gusto.
The Blue & Gold Scrimmage with B-CC - 8/21/14 By Kevin Milsted
A thunderstorm system skated south of Montgomery County early Thursday evening which set up steamy, humid conditions with scattered sprinkles for Bethesda Chevy Chase High School's annual Blue & Gold Scrimmage. Boys and girls teams were divided evenly and outfitted in either blue or gold to develop a sense of competition for the first 5k time trial of the season.
The B-CC boys' team enters this season defending its Montgomery County XC title, but expectations are tempered after heavy losses to graduation.
"Our boys lost five out of seven," said Head Coach Chad Young, "So that's going to be a little tough for us. We don't really know who it's going to be to step up. I've been getting on a few guys lately to step up."
The two remaining members from last year's county championship team, Sam Baker and Dylan Kannapell, led the way in the boys time trial in 17:07 and 17:31 respectively. Two more came in a minute later in 18:41 and 18:46, followed by the remainder of the top seven between 19:35 and 19:47.
The B-CC girls are also the defending champions of Montgomery County, and reasons are plentiful to be optimistic about this upcoming season. Six out of seven of last year's varsity runners return. Nora McUmber returns as the two-time Montgomery County XC champion and the defending NXN Southeast Region Champion. Sophomore Michaela Peterson returns healthy after an injury-laden freshman campaign and the rumor-mill places her among the top runners at the Concord Retreat Cross Country Camp this summer. The Barons add 11:34 3200m runner Caroline Rothermel.
Yet, with all there is to be excited for, Young is not setting any lofty goals at this time. Some of that has to do with the talented WJXC team down the road which came on strong to win last year's state title, and some of that has to do with the nagging pain plaguing star runner Caroline Beakes. According to Beakes, the stress fracture is "pretty much healed," but pain experienced over the summer caused her to take a few weeks off and now she is only running a few days a week. It is not likely that she races before October.
McUmber led the time trial with a time of 19:24 while Peterson was the only runner within a minute, finishing in 20:12. Kat McNeil and Rothermel finished next in 20:40 and 20:43 while Abigail Levine rounded out the top five in 21:12. The top eight girls finished under 22:00 and a steady stream of girls continued to file through the chute for the next three minutes.
"We have depth for sure," said Young. "We have groups that can compete with each other. I like that... We'll have to see how that rounds out. A lot of things have to happen."
Strength and Flexibility with Good Counsel - 8/20/14 By Kevin Milsted
Good Counsel High School has generated some of the top collegiate track & field and cross country runners to ever come out of Montgomery County, and according to head cross country coach Tom Arnold, many of the OLGC alumni join the current team on daily training runs throughout the summer. Still more alumni make it an annual tradition to attend the first time trial of the cross country preseason. And while some alumni watch the time trial from lawn chairs on the infield while scarfing down doughnuts, some alumni jump in on the time trial, either to test themselves or to help the younger developing runners.
When rising junior Jack Wavering advertised his desire to complete the 3200m test around the track in 10:00, he had the perfect pacing crew of collegiate athletes Jack Riely and Kyle Graves to support his effort. An even 75 seconds per lap is the requisite pace to break the ten minute barrier.
Wavering opened up with a 71 second lap and recorded mostly 74 second laps after that. He closed out the time trial with a 69 second final lap for a time of 9:50.
It was not Wavering's first time under 10:00 for 3200m, but it demonstrated, according to Arnold, an improved V-dot from where he ended the previous cross country season. (V-dot is the Jack Daniels Running Formula approximation for VO2-MAX - it's an oxygen thing).
"I always look at V-dot at the end of last season and compare it to the start of the new season to see who came back better," said Arnold. "It is difficult for the very good runners to do."
The top five boys in the time trial finished under 11:00 which would be considered a great success by most teams. Despite returning 8 of the top 10 from last year's team which won the WCAC title, Arnold expressed uncertainty about the upcoming season.
"Our goal is to win WCAC's every year," he said, "but I don't have a great feel for what the boys will do."
The Good Counsel girls team is small and young but still growing at this early stage in the season (Coach Arnold uses August to vigorously recruit the athletes cut by other teams at Good Counsel). The leader of the girls' time trial was freshman Claudia Wendt who finished in 12:39.
Defending WCAC XC champion Megan Crilly, who missed track season in her sophomore year, expressed excitement about leading the young team.
"I'm hoping to use [Wendt] to help me get back into it," said Crilly.
A weeknight practice with Good Counsel in August means a flexibility and strength workout 12 hours after completing a morning running workout. On this particular day, the morning workout was a tough 15x400m workout. Evening flexibility and strength means little if any running, but for some it may be the more strenuous workout of the day. Stretching and dynamic drills are followed by circuit drills and core.
On mats outside the building, faces grimaced to hold planks and side planks for 30 seconds or more. Push-ups and crunches were prescribed 15 to 25 at a time. Scoops and back flexors worked the core and made the athletes feel the burn.
Inside the school weight room, athletes rotated through circuit drill stations at 30 second intervals. V-ups. Dips. Russian Twists. Plyo-ball Pushups. Plate Presses. Lat Pull-Downs. Plate Triceps Extensions. Somebody shut off the AC and nobody brought the tunes. Whistle blasts in 30 second intervals were the soundtrack of this workout.
It was over an hour of dedicated strength and flexibility work.
The two-a-days are quickly drawing to an end for Good Counsel and for runners like Wavering that means he is that much closer to putting his hard work to the test.
"I did mile repeats several times," Wavering said of his summer training. "I did all the morning runs. [The time trial] shows I can do better than I've ever done."
Whitman Preseason Time Trial - 8/16/14 By Kevin Milsted
Through interactions with coaches and fans this preseason, one common theme always emerges: the Whitman boys are the talk of the town.
Everyone is talking about the Whitman boys except for the Whitman boys. According to Head Coach Steve Hays, the team has not yet discussed goals at this early stage. Three of the team's expected varsity runners have not yet reported to practice, but when the entire team comes together, a goal-setting session is anticipated. Hays believes they must say it out loud to believe it, whatever "it" might be.
Senior Amir Khaghani says that everyone is thinking it. Everyone on the team knows that they have the potential to win counties, regionals, and states, and maybe even a coveted backpack prize from the Oatlands Invitational, but dating back to last cross country season, team members have not spoken the topic aloud very often.
Cautious optimism may be appropriate. 4:34 miler as a sophomore, Andrew Murray moved to another state, leaving Whitman a little thinner than expected. This was visible in the team's two mile time trial on Saturday morning.
Whitman gathered on the fields of the WMAL towers in Bethesda at 8:00 AM on a crisp, sunny 67 degree August morning. After a mile warmup, the boys' time trial was first. The course was a loop and a half around the grassy field, which measured out to approximately 2 miles.
After a 5:01 mile, Khaghani finished first in 10:17 in what he described as a 90% effort made more difficult by the absence of teammates Evan Woods and Alex Roederer. Expected varsity runner Ben Gersch was also absent, while junior Willam Ryba made it clear that he will be a key contributor by finishing just 11 seconds behind Khaghani in 10:28.
More than a minute passed between the second and third finishers in the time trial. If the third and fourth finishers represented Whitman's #6 and 7 runners, it revealed a potential vulnerability.
"We can't have any injuries," Hays later said.
The Whitman girls team definitely did not appear to be lacking in depth. Following junior Erin O'Connor (12:40) and senior Nicole Ihrie (12:44) was a steady stream of runners: 12:55, 13:05, 13:12, 13:25, 13:29, etc. All together, there were 11 girls under 14:00 for two miles, and one of the team's top returning runners, Olivia Woods, was absent.
Many of the Whitman girls including Ihrie and O'Connor attended this year's Nike Smokey Mountain Running Camp in Asheville, North Carolina. Coach Hays says that he has been trying to get the girls to go to running camp for a while and the ones who went this year enjoyed it.
"I've been trying to get the girls to believe they can run harder than they have been," Hays said. "B-CC and WJ are the teams to beat, but we can be pretty good."
Walter Johnson Prepares for a Hilly Season - 8/16/14 By Sean O'Leary
Despite not formally meeting for practice since the end of the outdoor track season, the Walter Johnson boys and girls' cross country teams have a clear view of their focus for the fall: becoming strong hill runners.
"It's a Hereford year," Coach Tom Martin explained, "So we're going back to some of the stuff we didn't focus on as much last year, such as resistance work that really focuses on hill technique."
By the sound of things, the Wildcats already have a decent head start. A large amount of both the boys and girls recently attended the notoriously hilly Concord Retreat Cross Country Camp and cited the week as a great starting point for the hard work to come. Prior to camp, the reigning 4A state champion girls team logged steady mileage interspersed by a few light tempo workouts. Led by seniors Kiernan Keller and Melanie Cirillo, the girls acknowledge that it will be tough to stay on top, but they're excited to rise up and meet the challenge.
While the girls may have focused on keeping the intensity a little higher than previous summers, the boys purposefully toned it down in order to stay fresher for the work ahead.
"We just had fun," senior Ben Resnick joked.
It goes without saying that cross country runners are a pretty strange bunch that can consider consistent 40-to-50 mile weeks 'fun.' A few of the boys have had odd setbacks along the way, such as a nasty bout with poison ivy for senior Itai Bezherano and a broken pinky toe for junior Patrick Winter, but collectively the team now appears healthy and laden with potential.
For the first day of practice, both groups warmed up for a mile, performed their standard set of pre-workout dynamic stretches, ran two laps of ins-and-outs, and then launched into a moderate workout of 6x400m at 5k pace. The senior leadership kept this workout in check, as experience has taught the Wildcats that their assigned workouts will become plenty difficult soon enough.
However, there is a collective understanding that it is consistency in their training that will bring fast times later in the season as the leaves start to fall.
"I expect everyone to train hard," Coach Martin said matter-of-factly, "and to put team [goals] in front of their personal goals. That's it. Everything else that happens after that is a result of how well they do those two things."
As a group of 60-or-so athletes cooled down around the track to cap off a 5-mile day, a date and place seemed to be occupying everyone's thoughts: November 8th in Hereford, Maryland. They'll get a sneak-peak at the new course on September 27th at the Bull Run Invitational.
Fitzgerald, Churchill Boys Eye Return to States - 8/14/14 By Kevin Milsted
Most of the Churchill boys cross country team did not make it to this year's Concord Retreat Cross Country Running Camp, but it was not for lack of desire or work ethic. Many of the guys on the team had conflicts with the date of this year's camp, but the upcoming cross country season was never far from mind. Nagged by a failure to make states since the 2011 season, many of the expected varsity members of the team alternately created their own cross country camp at a mountain cabin in Virginia.
The cabin must have been very large, very crowded, or both. Eight teammates made the trip out of the suburbs and into the wilderness for some devoted running time. Out of that self-organized training camp came a confidence that this year's Churchill boys' team is the best in three years.
Senior David Fitzgerald is expected to lead the team for the third consecutive year and he believes the camp revealed some of his teammates - namely, Jacob Grant and Arturo Woodward-Montes - as runners who have made huge strides from a year ago.
If punching a ticket back to the state championship as a team is the number one goal, climbing back to the top individually is a close number two for Fitzgerald. He spent a good amount of time lifting in the gym this summer - almost exclusively lower body and core workouts - to increase his strength. He believes his sprint speed has improved as a result of the lifting. He points to his race at the Great American XC Festival where he ran 16:13 last October as the type of ability he hopes to demonstrate throughout the year and especially at this year's state championship.
The Churchill cross country team assembled near the track on a beautiful 72 degree Thursday morning. The sun was out with a light breeze in the air. Hundreds of kids were scattered around the track from other sports while the cross country team appeared to have one hundred of their own.
The team warmed up with a one mile out-and-back run followed by group stretching. The workout of the day started with an easy "Big Rectangle" loop (approximately 2.8 miles). Novice runners would take a short break and follow that up with a "Small Square" loop (approximately 1.7 miles). Experienced runners were told to repeat the Big Rectangle for a total workout of approximately 5.6 miles.
Sitting anonymously among the stretching athletes was sophomore Julia Reicin who finished 8th as a freshman at last year's XC county championship meet. Coaches expect her to be as strong as ever this season. Senior team leader and former XC county champion Lucy Srour made an appearance but did not dress to workout because of a doctor's appointment (physical) later that morning. Don't let the word "doctor" scare you. The gossip out of the Concord Running Camp is that Srour was one of the fittest athletes in camp.
Several of the top returning female runners were missing from practice, but when the full team comes together, expect Churchill, with one of the best 1-2 punches in the county and a strong supporting cast, to mix it up with the best girls teams in MoCo.