The Massachusetts men’s and women’s cross country teams will return to Boston Saturday for their second race in 15 days at Franklin Park for the New England Championships meet.
UMass women’s coach Julie LaFreniere is looking forward to seeing what her team can do on Saturday.
“Two weeks ago [at the Coast to Coast Battle of Beantown meet] was their second race out,” LaFreniere said. “We’ve been training very hard. I think everyone expects to run faster.”
Even as the teams prepare for Saturday’s races, they continue to look ahead to the next few weeks in competition, which will feature the Atlantic 10 conference meet Oct. 28, and the NCAA Northeast Regional meet Nov. 10.
For the Minutewomen, much of the past weeks’ training has been building toward being able to compete well late in the season.
“Most of what they’ve done has been uphill training,” LaFreniere mentioned, referring to the workout schedule. “Last Monday was the first day they’d done anything flat. This has all been in preparation for the Atlantic 10 course.”
Since Battle of Beantown was two weeks ago, UMass completed what its coach called “the mountain run.”
“They run as hard as they can uphill for three miles. [Redshirt senior] Heather [MacLean] set a new mountain run record. Colleen Sands wasn’t too far behind,” LaFreniere said.
In an effort to keep the runners healthy while maintaining a rigorous training schedule, LaFreniere has had UMass in the pool once a week, wearing belts and running as they would on land.
“They push hard… for 45 or 60 minutes,” she said. “That way they get the aerobic effort without any pounding [on their joints].”
As the Minutewomen enter the next phase of their season, where they will see local, regional, and ultimately national competition, LaFreniere keeps them focused on continuing to work hard and move forward.
“I don’t want the Atlantic 10s to be the ultimate goal. It’s big for us, but our goal is to be in contention for [A-10s] for every single season,” she said. “But I want them two weeks later to be able to bounce back and duke it out at regionals.”
On the men’s side, coach David Jackson has taken a similar approach to his team as the season moves toward its postseason stage. Like LaFreniere, he refers to the changes in his team’s training at this point in the season.
“We’ve put in a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of running and hill repeats,” Jackson said. “Now that we’ve competed a few times it’s ‘let’s get ready to sharpen our competitive skills.’”
This Saturday’s meet will be good practice for exactly that. While UMass won’t be running against national powerhouses like Syracuse, there will be many high-level competitors in the field.
The New England championships this weekend will act as a stepping stone for later on in the season, and will allow for more race experience as the team moves closer toward its ultimate goals.
“It’s a step towards the final prize, which is our conference meet right now,” Jackson said.
As the team gets more time working and running together, Jackson stressed the importance of continuing to hone their “pack running” skills.
“The pack running mentality has to step up a bit,” Jackson said. “Our guys have been practicing that. They’ve been running very well as a group”.
Last meet’s result was a step in the right direction in this regard, Jackson noted. As the competitive fields get larger and faster, the pack running mentality can make the difference between a good and bad team result. With more finishers crossing the line in a shorter amount of time, seconds matter a lot more.
“As a person, you’re responsible for your own mental rigors. As a group you’re also responsible for your teammates,” Jackson said. “If you see someone starting to pull away, you need to latch on to them, and if you see the person behind you starting to fade, it’s your job to say ‘hey c’mon, let’s go.’”
Jackson also stressed the importance of attaining mental toughness this year.
“They control their destiny. They control their ability to do or not to do,” Jackson said. “In the race you will hit highs and lows.”
While Jackson mentioned specific leaders on the team, he said he looks to all his runners to challenge each other and fight for the next spot higher.
“So if you’re the five guy, you need to be running for [the] four or three spot. And if you’re the one guy, you better be running your butt off to make sure the two guy doesn’t get you, and if he does, that you’re right on his shoulder,” Jackson said.
Both coaches are looking forward to moving into the next phase of the season, which will consist of the conference and regional meets. They have a long road ahead but aren’t letting that slow them down.
“We’re putting the gas pedal to the floor right now,” Jackson said.
Will Katcher can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @will_katcher.