Harriers going through their paces

Coach Richard Christopher and assistant Mary Sue Silver give the BHS cross-country team a first-day pep talk. - ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo
Coach Richard Christopher and assistant Mary Sue Silver give the BHS cross-country team a first-day pep talk.
— image credit: ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo

The practice schedule reads like this:

Monday – Run.

Tuesday – Run.

Wednesday – Run.

Thursday – Run.

Friday – Run.

Saturday – Run.

Sunday – Rest....

And this being Monday – never mind that it was only the first day of fall turnout – the BHS cross-country team was sent bounding down the track and across the field like deer.

“You’re running over the ground, not on the ground,” coach Richard Christopher barked. “I don’t want to hear (feet) slapping the track.”

Thirty strong, with more runners expected to show up throughout the week, the team worked up a good lather beneath the late August sun. A regimen of stretching and strength-building was followed by timed laps around the practice fields.

Christopher, returning for his 16th season as head coach, said he’s already confident about the coming season.

“By virtue of the fact that they’re here, they’re very competitive,” he said of this year’s runners.

The team fared well last season in its first foray in the Metro League, the girls racing out to a pair of wins in early four-way meets.

The district meet was something of a letdown, but not for want of effort by the runners.

Despite a fifth-place finish, the girls were bumped out of a state berth when league officials narrowed the district qualifying field to four teams.

“You can find no fault with the athletes,” Christopher said. “They were superb.”

As this year will again see races against parochial schools like O’Dea and Blanchet, the BHS team may sport T-shirts emblazoned with “Mother of Bainbridge” or some other ironic slogan.

Christopher said it doesn’t matter to him which teams his runners go up against, describing Division 2 of the Metro League as “tough and balanced.”

“Our marching orders are to run against these schools,” he said, “and that’s what we’ll do.”

As happens most years, the harriers did lose several key team members to graduation. Likely to step up and lead the team this fall are junior Rachel Belt and sophomore Jordan Droppert, both of whom made individual appearances at last year’s state meet.

Belt said she hopes to cut her course times, breaking the 19-minute mark in 5K competition.

She also hopes to return to state, and to better last year’s finish – 59th in a field of 151, which she attributed to a bout with illness before the race.

Belt said she enjoys the mental aspects of cross country, citing daily training as a good way to relieve the pressures of school.

“It’s the best stress release ever,” she said. “And you never sit on the bench.”

Christopher is loathe to single out runners as potential leaders, stressing in all discussions the “team” elements of a sport generally thought to be run by individuals.

Meet scoring is determined largely by a squad’s top finishers, but solid times recorded by those farther back can bump runners from other schools out of contention. And at all times, pace is as important as speed.

“You’ve got to apply the speed at the right time,” Christopher said. “Too much speed too soon, and it doesn’t do you any good.”

Christopher is assisted by Mary Sue Silver, and both attended a four-day camp for cross-country coaches over the summer – returning with a passel of new ideas for training.

This year’s team will see early-morning weight training twice a week, with an emphasis on developing “core” strength in the mid-section.

Returning after a years-long absence will be a video camera, to tape runners for analysis of their stride and efficiency.

“I think for a lot of the athletes, that will be very exciting,” Silver said. “‘Tell me what I’m doing right, tell me what I’m doing wrong, care about me.’ To get some individual coaching, I think will be sweet.”

Adding fun to the program this year are a “parents’ night” and team dinners.

But through it all is the daily regimen that will have runners covering three to five miles, sometimes more.

The team trains along island roadways, on a meandering course at Battle Point Park, and in an area near Port Gamble that Christopher refers to as “the boonies.”

The aim is to get runners used to the challenge of Seattle’s Lower Woodland Park, notorious for its uneven terrain.

“It’s all up or down – mostly up,” Christopher said. “Any place that’s called ‘Goat Hill,’ you can bet you’re in for some rough stuff.”

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