An inside look into the mind of cross country runner senior Lyndy Davis about what it takes mentally and physically to compete and train for national meets.
By Taylor Tobin, Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Imagine wearing a Pilot's cross country jersey, standing at the starting line of a race.
The crowd is silent.
Your teammates are silent.
Your opponents are silent.
Butterflies crowd your stomach in anticipation of one single sound-Bang!
What you feel is what fifth-year cross country runner Lyndy Davis feels everytime she steps behind the starting line to race.
"Your gut just drops and you want to start," Davis said. "Because once you start, you're in it. It's that standing on the line right before the gun's shot off that's freaky."
Davis has run competitively since her sophomore year in high school, but she still gets nervous before a race. Unlike most collegiate sports, college-level cross country runners race only four or five times in a season.
"It gives you anxiety when you do put your jersey on," Davis said. "It's a big deal and it's really exciting."
Davis thrives on nervousness. It's the nerves that get her to run fast.
After the initial excitement of starting a race, Davis zones out.
"For me, if I start being distracted and thinking about something that happened in the day, I know my race is falling to pieces," Davis said. "That's a sign I'm not going to be happy when I cross the finish line."
Davis adds that the best thing for elite runners to do mentally during a race is to reach runner's utopia-learning how to run while feeling pain, and pushing through that pain.
Besides pushing through pain, finding a rhythm also helps.
"Sometimes if I have a song I was listening to right before the race, a lyric might repeat in my mind, like five words from a song that repeat to your stride and your steps. It's kind of annoying, but [it] happens," Davis said.
Although running is an individual sport, the women's cross country team is focusing on a more team-oriented approach this year.
"What we've really been working on this year is running with a group and running at least with a partner in a race. That's one of our big goals this year. It's important because at the end of a race, if you're coming in with a teammate, you're keeping the points. It's really motivating to have them behind you," Davis said. "[Racing is] definitely not an individual thing."
Having a teammate by her side motivates Davis. Just seeing the Pilot jersey next to her is encouraging. Seeing her coaches during a race and hearing them cheer her on also motivates Davis.
"It would freak me out if my coach wasn't there. I need Ian to be at the races. I can hear him whenever he says something throughout a race. Whenever I run past [him] I probably run faster," Davis said. "It's important to have your coach at your competition, he's the one who see's you at all your workouts and everything."
Head coach Ian Solof knows that it is natural for athletes to want the support of their coach through a race. Solof believes that there is only so much he can do to encourage his athletes during a race and most of the support from the coaches comes during the practices before the day of the competition.
"Getting [the athletes] to be relaxed and confident in their fitness and ability, and making sure they go into the race with the right objective is important," Solof said. "We encourage the athletes to be competitive and, at the same time, not get freaked out and turn it into something bigger than it is. It's a race, and you run as hard as you can."
During a race, Solof can get on the course to encourage his team. He will occasionally yell to an athlete and tell them to run harder, so they can move up to the next group.
Warming up and cooling down before and after a race is a large part of competing and avoiding injury.
"Our three-mile warm up is probably longer than most people run in a day. We warm up and then we race, and then we do a three or four mile cool down," Davis said.
According to Davis, warming up gets a runner's muscles loose so their bodies do not go into shock when they start running really fast. Their bodies need to get used to the race pace before they even start.
Davis is excited to be competing close to home this year because she loves having the support of her family and friends.
"Having a bunch of our family members, friends, students, classmates and professors at the race is a lot of pressure, but I think it'll really help our team and it's really exciting," Davis said.
The women's cross country team will be on the road for their next four competitions. They will be back in Portland on Oct. 13 for the Concordia Invitational.