The upcoming cross country season will undoubtedly be an important one in the history of the program, as radical changes are underway.
This season, head coach Hanna Eastbrook says that her runners will be focusing more on physical and mental toughness, as well as the expected athletic skills.
“In addition to speed and endurance, Capital runners need to be able to beat their competitors in every way possible,” Eastbrook said.
Eastbrook explained that while speed and endurance are very necessary, there are two other skills that need to be instilled in distance runners: a “no fear” attitude, and disregard for personal health.
The team will now run their workouts on the campus tennis courts, which were condemned as dangerous by the athletic department in recent years.
Cross country athletes will run their repeats around the interior of these uneven courts in a figure-eight pattern and told not to stop if they cross the path of a teammate.
While Eastbrook realizes the danger this poses to her runners, she seems to enjoy it. She even cites the dissolution of the men’s tennis program as evidence that runners are superior athletes.
“They were afraid of the courts,” Eastnrook said. “They ran from danger, and now where are they?”
In addition to tedious workouts in the middle of the hot afternoon around hazardous tennis courts, the team is also working towards their “no fear” attitude on non-workout days.
“On recovery runs, we deliberately put ourselves in dangerous situations,” senior Russell Andrews said. “It can be a lot of fun if done right.”
Andrews said that the men’s team will purposefully run straight into traffic while shouting encouraging mottos such as “pay for my college” and “I miss my mom.”
Christina Verne says the women’s team also participates, awarding bonus points on a made-up system for charging at a COTA bus.
“People ask me if running on the tennis courts is healthy,” first-year Ward Daniels said. “I never know how to answer that one, but when I joined the team, I still had knees.”
The emphasis on toughness goes beyond the race course as well. Runners will engage in fight training and survivalist exercises in order to eliminate faster competition.
“Other teams might be faster than us, but that only means that they’ll be easy targets at the finish line,” Eastbrook said. “Otterbein’s team might have made it to Division III Nationals but that means nothing if they back down from a fight.”
Eastbrook encourages her athletes to instigate fights during races, group up in order to take down faster runners, and pick spots on the course where officials and opposing coaches will not find a body right away.
“It’s a lot of paperwork if they find someone like that, but if a runner gets ‘lost,’ it’s their own fault and they are the responsibility of their own teams and coaches,” she said.
The creation of a new culture is well underway. Junior Jonah Piles said that he has been encouraged to wear war paint, even in practice, and the poster of Steve Prefontaine that was on the wall of the locker room has been replaced with a hastily-printed image of infamous former Detroit Red Wings forward Bob Probert.
“Probert is on the wall right next to ‘Wanted’ posters of some of the faster guys in the conference,” Piles said. “I was actually offered additional scholarship for the scalp of this one kid from Mount Union.”
Whether or not Coach Eastbrook’s bold strategy pays off, Capital cross country is certainly looking toward a higher finish in the conference rankings. “It will be our sweat and possibly our tears,” Eastbrook said, “but everyone else’s blood.”