EASTHAM — “I’m glad that we’ll be able to have some sort of season,” said Izzy Nobili, senior captain of the Nauset Regional High School cross country team.
Normally, cross country operates with separate boys and girls teams at Nauset. This year, the team will be co-ed and compete in five regular season dual meets in the Cape & Islands League. It’s a shortened season with new rules to follow. But the team is eager to compete after a solid summer of training.
“Our training went really well this summer,” said Finn Riley, Nobili’s fellow senior captain. “We got more training in than we ever have.”
But the runners mostly trained alone. “It’s good to run with kids again and see kids again,” Nobili said.
Riley and Nobili said the team did hold morning captains’ practices this summer at Nickerson State Park in Brewster. It’s an ideal area for running and breathing fresh air. They maintained proper distancing, and wore masks when they couldn’t do so.
School-organized practices began on Monday, Sept. 21 for all fall sports at Nauset. It was the first chance for cross country runners to experience a new course at the high school. Nobili explained that normally the course would include some of the wooded trails near Nauset’s outdoor track.
But this year the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) imposed strict course requirements for cross country. The course must be at least six feet wide at all points and the start line must be 75 feet wide to keep runners distanced. Nauset’s course will start with a 150-foot straightaway and then make three loops around the athletic fields. It’s a 3.1-mile course, that is, 5 kilometers.
“All of our trails are super narrow, so we had to eliminate the whole trail portion,” Nobili said. It cuts out a bit of the scenery that takes runners’ minds off running. And since Nobili has always been a fan of trail runs, nothing but grass will be “an adjustment,” she said.
Of all the fall sports, cross country may be the least affected by the new Covid guidelines. But wearing masks and staying distanced while running a 5K present challenges.
Riley said he hopes the team can find masks that work well for runners.
The MIAA requires athletes to wear face coverings at the beginning and conclusion of races. They can be removed during a race when runners are properly distanced, but they have to stay on otherwise. Runners from the same team are told to remain six feet apart, while runners from different teams should remain 14 feet apart during a race.
Usually runners are in clusters, competing side by side. But races will now include staggered starts between pods of runners in waves — with 8 to 10 runners in each pod.
This may turn into a bit of a head game for runners. It will be harder to see directly where opponents are in relation to one’s own progress during a race. Distancing and staggered starts will make that less obvious.
The pods of runners within each team will be established during team practices.
An additional complication, said head coach Moira Nobili, is that only a certain number of kids can race in meets. That’s too bad, because all runners really want to run and need to get their exercise.
Breaking old habits, learning new rules, and getting used to a new race format will happen during the first couple of weeks of practice, Coach Nobili said.
It might happen in creative ways.
“I might buy a few water noodles and show the kids proper distancing,” she said.
She said a habit that must be kicked is spitting while running. Mucus and saliva buildup are normal for runners, though staying hydrated can help reduce the phlegmy accumulation that runners need to expel. An Aug. 26 Runner’s World report recommends that runners carry tissues or find ways to remove themselves from the course to spit. As far as finding acceptable alternatives, it advises, “Shooting mucus out of your nose isn’t any better.”
Ultimately, this season is all about having a positive attitude, making sure each runner feels comfortable, and enjoying the opportunity to compete.
“It was so hard losing outdoor track,” Izzy Nobili said of the spring season the runners have already missed. “This is my senior year, so I’m hoping to get as much out of it as possible.”
“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” Riley said. “This is what we’ve been training months for.”