By Jason Retz
St. Joseph-Ogden Cross Country & Track
Being a distance runner has it positives and negatives. On the positive side, you enjoy a lot of quality time by yourself or with people who have similar interests as you. The negative is you tend to spend a lot of time away from family and other friends to keep with your addiction. If you manage to not spend much time away from them, typically, this means you are running before the sun comes up or well after the sun goes down.
For many of our young athletes this is a struggle when they become serious about distance running. Many of their friends have little comprehension of why they are doing what they are doing. This can cause separation of friends with different interests. At times this puts our athletes on an island away from their peers.
Maybe at larger schools where there are 100 kids on the team this is not a big deal, but a school where there are less than 20 kids who make the total sacrifice it can be difficult for our athletes. Being a distance runner is not the easy thing to do.
Coaching distance runners is also unique. I’m not just trying to get them to run fast; I’m trying to convince them of all the things they need to do to run fast. For example, healthy diet, good sleep habits, icing, helping others, becoming disciplined, and the list goes on.
At times as a distance coach we hold the kids more accountable than any other person. This can be tough on kids, feeling that they are held to a higher standard, which is what we do. We tell them constantly that this is not an easy sport. And that’s ok! Everyone needs that person in their lives that helps keep them accountable.
Back to our island. For the first few years of high school many kids fight the fact that if they truly want to achieve the things they have set goals for in distance running, they are going to find themselves standing on an island with just a handful of people including their coaches. Unlike a typical island where it’s tough to get off, this island is difficult to stay on!
This last year at EIU Distance Camp, Coach Sipple (Downers Grove North) and I shared a room. It was like a 3rd grade slumber party! We stayed up too late talking about anything running we could come up with. Although we share stuff from time to time, for that moment we were standing on the same island. Our similar lifestyles of coaching made it great to share ideas with each other.
That is the same infectious relationships our athletes have with each other and with the coaches when everyone is working together on the same island. They’ll run together, go to dinner, watch movies, and just enjoy being around each other.
Throughout the season you will have some that will jump on and off the island, we have that even today, but the best part is it’s never too late to jump on. You may not get everything you wanted if you jump late, but you’ll be thankful you made the jump onto the island.
One day my hope is the island turns into the mainland. But for now, I’ll enjoy my time with my family on our island.