Cross country coach Grant Edwards has turned the challenges posed by the global pandemic into a unique opportunity to help his athletes adjust to new circumstances and teach them what commitment really means. While in-person connections are more efficient in handling the physical, technical and emotional aspects of the sport, coaching remotely takes patience, and finding out how runners are feeling and what they need to stay mentally in the game can be tricky.
"In many ways, cross country is a summer sport that plays out in the fall," said senior harrier Sam Shi. "Good summer training is essential to success later in the season."
The good news? Edwards has innovated and introduced a plethora of activities to make remote mentoring a positive experience. These efforts, combined with a strong team culture, have energized the team and strengthened their bonds, even as they train alone at home.
Edwards and his staff support the team from afar, offering regular opportunities to connect via Zoom, both as a team and individually.
“They've been very supportive of each other, continuing with the tradition set by those who have come before them,” said Edwards. “They've encouraged each other when checking running logs and ask questions about training during our Zoom sessions.”
"The veteran 'Mountain Goats' always stay connected during the summers as we try to hold each other accountable," said Shi. "Being able to see other people’s workouts definitely helps us stay motivated. In addition, Coach Edwards has devised personalized training programs for different skill levels."
Coaches instituted a series of challenges/time trials to serve as a benchmark, build confidence and spice up the lonely miles on the road. At the beginning of the summer regimen, runners were encouraged to complete a 5k and five-mile run. Students are self-timed and post results to tracking platforms Strava or TrainingPeaks or share with coaches via email.
For Emilie Strapp '23, dealing with Covid-19 and all its unknowns for a fall campaign has been a daunting undertaking. She would rather be running at Peddie with her teammates from the area.
"I've been trying to make the best of what I am able to do and keeping a log of workouts has definitely helped me to motivate myself to run," said Strapp. "Pretty much all of the training I have done this summer has come from that spreadsheet.
"For the most part, I've been training five to six days a week, mixing it up with long runs, hills, interval workouts and either one or three-mile time trials. I think I am doing well, since my times are similar to what I was doing under the watchful eye of coaches."
Navigating through virtual training, Edwards hopes to prepare the team for the two-mile time trial that is traditionally held with Hightstown High School on the Peddie Golf Course during preseason week, though it's not yet clear whether the harriers will be able to compete due to the pandemic.
"We'll have to wait and see what we are able to do," said Edwards. “I’m hopeful that we still get to compete in some form - we may have to be flexible with how it happens, but champions adjust!"