Fairfax County schools and a few local guests raced at Burke Lake Saturday, with the Potomac School’s Charlie Ortmans and W.T. Woodson and Herndon’s Gillian Bushee and West Springfield leading the way.
Parents: The Built-in Cross Country Fans
As a new high school cross country season begins, there are things parents of aspiring runners need to know to best support their child’s budding interest in this glorious sport. Cross country is its own unique (and painful) animal. And high school cross country, with its range of talent, experience, and intensity among athletes, parents, and coaches, requires some advance preparation and understanding before diving in.
First, the setting matters. Races can range from tri or quad meets with just a few teams lining up in a parking lot, to a massive invitational with colorful tents, banners flying and packs of kids running around in every possible shade of bright matching singlets. It can feel more like a medieval fair than a modern day sporting event.
“The pageantry of it really struck me,” says Margaret Carpenter, a Virginia-based cross country mom of her first cross country meet for George Marshall High School. “It’s really beautiful, almost military.” At a small meet you will find your kid no problem, but a bigger race may require more coordination. Tim Haight, another local cross country parent, advises parents to “arrive extra early — plan for traffic and parking — you don’t want to miss your child running.” Know the cell phone numbers of other parents, as your athlete may be warming up and unreachable when you arrive at the meet.
The weather is also a critical factor both in how you support your child and your own spectating comfort. Cross country can start as early as August, with temps and humidity at their most sweltering. If this is the case, a prepared parent will bring lots of cold water–enough for themselves and extra for their kid–and even a cooler full of ice to help the runners cool down before and after the race. Parents coming from work should ditch the suit and pumps and bring a change of comfortable clothing (running clothes encouraged!) and sensible shoes to deal with the dirt and grass of the typical cross country course.
Later in the season the tables will turn and layering will be the name of the game. Runners will want to keep their sweats on until just before the gun goes off, so one parent (check with the coach first) might volunteer to take all the kids’ sweats right as they step to the starting line. After the race, wet or sweaty-cold clothing will chill an athlete quickly, so encourage your kids to do their cool down jog immediately and then change into something dry. “It’s a long day for your child,” Haight says of Saturday invitational meets, “so send them with the food and clothing they will need to be comfortable in all weather circumstances.”
Perhaps the most important part of coming to support is having a cheering plan. Look at a map of the course in advance and identify a few places where you can watch. While cheering at the finish line is great, support throughout the race is even better, so look where a course figure-8s, loops (and you can take a shortcut across), or doubles back to maximize the number of times you see your runner. “When you get there, scope out earlier races so you can figure out the good spectating spots so you know where to look for your child,” Haight suggests.
Supporting high school cross country is about encouraging your kids and their teammates to have fun. As a parent you set the sportsmanship tone, so cheer for everyone on your team. “There are a lot of names to know, so write them down to learn them,” Carpenter advises. “By the end of your fourth season this is your family.” She advises parents become familiar with MileSplit.com, a high school running website with Virginia and Maryland sites. “Use it to educate yourself about some of the top runners, the ones your own kid is competing with…as well as the top teams in the state and what colors they’re wearing so that you can enjoy watching them outdo themselves at the front of the pack.”
If your kid is on the JV team, stick around for the varsity race. If they’re on varsity, show up in time for the JV events. “It’s such an easy sport to watch,” Haight says. “Just a few 20-minute races.” Mid-cross country race, an athlete can reach a mentally dark place, so tell them they look awesome! Tell them they’re doing great! Tell them they look strong! “They have a coach,” Carpenter says, “so it’s up to you to be their cheerleader.”
There are many ways you can support your kids physically and mentally outside of the race itself. “By junior year, when schoolwork becomes more intense, realize how much the sport takes out of your runner each practice and pick up the pieces,” says Carpenter. “Get him to gear down for earlier sleep each night…we asked him often how we could help him [and] did some planning out loud to help him manage the full days and full load.” Fueling your runner is a good place to focus, so talk to the coach and consult other running resources to learn about the best eating habits for young athletes. “As my son got more serious about his sport, I saw him go for fuel more than snacks so I tried to support that.”
Before the season even begins you can start preparing for the demands of cross country. “You have to go to a running store and buy the appropriate shoes,” advises Haight. “Also go to the coach for advice and look into summer running options,” as many teams have casual running meet-ups, often organized by team captains, throughout the summer. Carpenter recommends sending your kid to a running camp if possible to give them the opportunity to discover and fall in love with running culture independent from parental involvement.
Burnout is a danger for any athlete. Haight points out that, “when kids think running is not fun, it’s really the parents and coach making it not fun.” Supportive parents should “encourage all the good parts about running and hopefully then your kid matures into someone who wants to continue to run and run and run.” Carpenter echoes his sentiments. “Tune into the identity of being a runner and what being a part of this really glorious thing is all about, and the times will probably take care of themselves.”
When it comes to race day, immediately before the race pressure is building, so it’s likely best to leave your athlete alone. Running is an intense sport, and your child will be dealing with pre-race jitters, focus, and team dynamics. Don’t add pressure by asking too many questions or fixating on how good (or not good) they feel. If you are nervous for them (which, as a parent, you very likely are), those nerves will rub off and add additional pressure to an already high-pressure situation. As a supporter, you are there to tell them they feel great and will be awesome. If anything, remind them before the race to trust in their training and to have fun.
Afterwards, if they had a good race, celebrate with them! And if they had a rough day, celebrate with them! As long as they tried their best, it counts as a win. Success in cross county takes time. That’s time on a daily basis–time to train, time to rest, time to sleep–and also over the course of years. Focus freshmen on enjoying the experience. As they mature and build mileage and endurance they will inevitably improve, but none of that will happen if they’re not having fun.
Finally, “Go to as many meets as you can,” Carpenter’s first point of advice, is echoed by many parents. “They’re long days, so you give up Saturday, but you only have so much time with the kids and it’s so beautiful what they do.” Pointing to the life lessons–sportsmanship, dedication, diligence, joy in exercise–gained from participating in cross country, she notes, “they’re finding their character in this and it’s great to see a young person discover that it’s a lifelong sport.” Haight agrees and advises parents to “nurture the interest because running is a habit and a hobby that they can live with forever.”
Doubts swirled around my head, and my right quad muscles ached with cramp-like pain. It was only ten miles into the 2021 Philadelphia Marathon but as I watched what felt like hundreds of runners zip past me, I started to recalibrate my pre-race goal: Three hours and 50 minutes became four hours. Then four and a half hours. Then simply finishing.
The race turned into a mental battle. My legs screamed for me to stop and walk, while my brain urged me to continue on pace. The 10th mile would be my slowest up to that point. I tried to find motivation wherever I could. I repeated the mantras, “mind over body” and “don’t run scared,” to myself as I locked on to the runners in front of me. I visualized how satisfying it would feel when I crossed the finish line with another sub-four hour marathon. I thought about my supporters back home who were tracking my race online.
- Yorktown’s Anna Macon Corcoran, Herndon’s Gillian Bushee and McLean’s Thais Rolly all came away from the Virginia state meet’s 6A classification with titles in the 800 meters (2:14.22), 1600 meters (4:54.92) and 3200 meters (10:26.36) respectively. West Springfield completed the local distance sweep by winning the 4×800 relay in 9:16.16 with a team of Lexi Stein, Kenza Elakari, Chloe Miller and Aidan MacGrath.
- The Spartan boys matched the feat in their sixth straight title, fielding a team of Kyle LaJoye, Nasir Banks, Sean Cochran and John O’Donnell to run a meet record 7:44.42. O’Donnell won the open 800 in 1:52.14. McLean’s Xavier Jemison was second in the 1600 meters in 4:15.93 and Oakton’s Elham Huq was third in the 3200 meters in 9:20.03.
- In 5A, Stone Bridge had individual winners in the girls’ 800 meters, Lydia Wallis (2:15.04) and boys’ 1600 meters, Alexander Ryan (4:21.84). Ryan joined Connor McMichael, Mitchell Palmer and
Matthew Ryan to ruun 8:20.71 for eighth place in the 4×800.
- Independence’s Nithin Rudraraju was 11th in the 800 meters in 2:00.91, while Woodgrove’s Layna Capritta was third in the 1600 meters in 5:11.3. In the 3200 meters, Riverside’s Sarah Floyd was sixth in 11:36.0 and Potomac Falls’ Hudson Barth was 11th in 9:56.16.
- Loudoun Valley’s Ava Gordon won the 4A 3200 meters in 10:17.46, third in the 1600 in 4:58.84 and ran a leg of the Vikings’ runner-up 4×800 with Eryn Lackey, Ella Peterson and Scarlet Fetterolf, hitting 9:35.39. The Viking boys were also second in the 4×800 in 7:53.98, fielding a team of Jake Rimmel, Aidan Soto, Luke Blair and Justin Park. Rimmel was fourth in the open 800 meters in 1:55.46. Loudoun County’s Ethan Stansbury was second in the 1600 meters in 4:18.39, Lightridge’s Sophie Gross was third in the 800 meters in 2:15.81, and Valley’s Ty Blair was eighth in the 3200 meters in 9:29.11.
- Merdian’s girls made an efficient trip to the 3A championships, with a runner-up finish in the 4×800 in 9:45.07. Grace Crum, Lauren Mellon, Molly Moore and Alexis Niemi ran on the team. In addition, Crum finished third in the open 800 meters in 2:20.00, Moore was seventh in the 3200 meters in 11:59.56 and Mellon was ninth in the 1600 in 5:26.77. Emil Morin as 18th in the boys’ 1600 in 4:53.93 and Eli Wildman was 20th in the 3200 in 10:46.85. Wildman joined Jackson Funk, Lucas Hollinger and Henry Hladky to run 8:57.92 for 15th in the 4×800.
- Oakton and American University alumna Keira D’Amato won the US 6k championships in Canton, Ohio.
Blake senior Ella Zeigler swept the distance races at the Maryland 4A state track championships, running 2:5.42 for 800 meters, 5:04.31 for 1600 meters and 10:59.06 for 3200 meters. Walter Johnson was third in the 4×800 in 9:33.43.
Northwood’s Lamar Wilson led local boys with a runner-up finish in the 800 meters (1:56.67) and a third place finish in the 1600 meters (4:19.45), while Blair’s Edward Lyness (9:26.70) was third in the 3200 meters. Walter Johnson was second in the 4×800 in 8:05.46.
In 3A, Oxon Hill’s Genelle Stephens was eighth in the 800 meters (2:25.27) and was on the team’s third place 4×800 relay (9:42.64).
Mcgruder’s Colin Abrams was third in the 800 meters (1:54.81), Springbrook’s Sofiane Compaorg was eigth in the 1600 meters (4:23.77) and Springbrook’s 4×800 team ran 8:02.98 for third.
Poolesville’s Daisy Dastrup led local 2A finishers in the 1600 (ninth in 5:27.21) and 3200 meters (fourth in 11:37.59), and a leg 4×800, which finished sixth in 10:21.16. Poolesville’s Sean Groeninger ran 2:04.90 for ninth in the 800s meters, Dylan Derewonko ran 4:33.23 for seventh in the 1600 meters, Aaron Longbrake ran 9:51.18 for fourth in the 3200 meters and the Falcons’ 4×800 team ran 8:37.40 for fifth.
In 1A, Crossland’s Brenda DerSanchez was 14th in the 800 meters in 2:43.32, 15th in the 1600 meters in 6:53.73, and Crossland was 14th in the 4×800 in 13:09.73. Crossland’s Abraham Eason was 13th in the 800 meters in 2:07.93, 10th in the 1600 meters in 4:53.28 and 13th in the 3200 meters in 11:12.66.
At the D.C. state meet, St. Johns’ Meredith Gotzman won the 1600 (5:03.93) and 3200 meters 10:55.72, while Georgetown Visitation’s Helen Bonner ran 2:21.40 to win the 800 meters. Visitation took the 4×800 title in 9:34.82. St. Johns’ Austin Rios-Colon won the 800 meters in 1:56.89, St. Albans took titles in the 1600 meters (William Strong in 4:28.01) and 3200 meters (Sebi Hume in 9:41.25), while St. John’s won the 4×800 in 8:07.96.
Virginians will race their state meets this weekend.
- Heritage alumna Weini Kelati ran a world championship standard in the 10,000 meters at Sound Running’s Track Meet in Orange County, Calif. last weekend. Her 31:11.11 met the 31:25.00 qualifying time.
- Local distance runners scored some wins at collegiate track champhionships (and one likely would have won, if not for her teammate):
Atlantic 10 (Division I)
1. Ryan Fowkes George Washington 3:55.33
1. Logan Broedner George Washington 9:08.53
1.Kathryn Nohilly George Washington 10:33.01
2.Margaret Coogan George Washington 10:33.89
1. Jack Ikenberry George Mason 14:08.79
Coast to Coast (Division III)
1.Daniel Ferrante Christopher Newport (Fairfax Christian) 1:53.65
1.Heather Delaplaine Salisbury (Damascus) 2:19.86
1.Daniel Ferrante Christopher Newport (Fairfax Christian) 3:52.47
1.Logan Funk Christopher Newport (Meridian/George Mason HS) 4:42.81
Centennial (Division III)
1.Gavin McElhennon Johns Hopkins (Gonzaga) 30:28.89
1.Katie Hirsche Haverford (Burke) 37:45.01
University Athletic Association (Division III)
1.Cullen Capuano Washington (Gonzaga) 32:10.66
Former Westfield runner and All-RunWashington honoree Johnny Pace produced a video for the Pacers Running film series on Joan and Drew Hunter.
After an odd mixture of make-up cross country seasons in the spring – somewhat recognizable in Virginia, an empty-tasting few weeks in Maryland, and nothing in Washington, D.C. – the sport resumed its normal fall schedule in 2021. Local teams took home state titles in Maryland (Poolesville boys and Walter Johnson girls), Virginia (Oakton boys and Loudoun Valley girls) and, of course, D.C. (St. John’s). Owen McArdle, Thaïs Rolly and Ava Gordon all made the national Eastbay Cross Country Championships.
The RunWashington coaches panel recently met and decided the post-season honorees: the All-RunWashington team, which includes the top 10 boys and girls in our coverage area, and seven more runners each in D.C., Maryland and Virginia runners. Our coverage area includes Washington, D.C.; Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax and Arlington counties (and all independent cities therein); and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland.
Panelists included Gonzaga’s John Ausema, Georgetown Visitation’s Kevin Hughes, St. Albans and National Cathedral’s Jim Ehrenhaft, West Springfield’s Chris Pellegrini and Winston Churchill’s Scott Silverstein. This could not have been done without their input, along with input from countless other coaches, photographs lent by Ed Lull, Craig Amoss and Susie Shaffer and the databases maintained by Milesplit and Athletic.net and all of the race timers who chart the sport’s results.
You can see the regional teams here:
RunWashington’s coaches panel reviewed the 2021 season and picked the seven girls and seven boys for the All-RunWashington Virginia team.
Our coverage area includes Washington, D.C.; Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax and Arlington counties (and all independent cities therein).
You can see the regional teams here:
RunWashington’s coaches panel reviewed the 2021 season and picked the seven girls and seven boys for the All-RunWashington D.C. team.
You can see the regional teams here: