Cedar Creek XC Blog

- Head Coach Stephen Morales

The Dawn of a New Era - 10/17/2014

I sit here at 4:00 a.m., my usual wake up time during XC season this year. I am on my 1st cup of coffee. I am reflecting this morning on the sacrifices made by everyone involved in our team this year and how far that has taken us.

It is the morning of our District XC Championships. I think back to exactly 6 months ago, when the districts were realigned and we moved up to 5A. I wrote something down that scared the bejeebus out of me. It was the bio line on our official Twitter account (@Cedar_Creek_XC). I changed it to:

Official Twitter of the future 26-5A Cross Country Champions - Cedar Creek High School

Writing down my goals and making them public has always been a key indicator of how successful we would be. This one was scary. Cedar Creek is still new. We do not have established programs. No traditions. No winning streaks. Nothing to show us the way.

Today everything changes. Today is the day we show everyone what is possible with a dream and a sheer desire to succeed. We will blaze a path for others to follow. We will create a legacy. Years from now, this is the team that will be discussed. The ones who showed everyone else that hard work and determination will get you far. No amount of luck, wishing, or hoping will get you there. "The only thing that will save you in Cross Country is the unbreakable determination to run harder, for longer, than everyone else."
This is it. It is the dawn of a new era at Cedar Creek.

Recommit -10/16/2014

Invariably, my athletes will hear the word "recommit" from me. In EVERY race, you will be tired and be saying to yourself, "Why am I doing this?" "I want my mommy" "I'm going to die." These thoughts are perfectly natural. How you deal with them will determine the outcome of your race. Sometimes these thoughts will enter your mind at the starting line, and sometimes further along the course. Make no doubt about it, every runner on the course is saying the same things to themselves.

This is where over the course of your training and racing, a runner is expected to recommit. Recommit to the race, the extreme pace, and your placing. Recommit to passing that one person in front of you. Recommit to pushing yourself beyond your preconceived limits. Recommit to your team.
In a really tough race, I have had to recommit 20+ times. It happens. As long as each time you catch yourself just drifting along, you snap back into it and push yourself, you will set personal bests. You most likely won't have an easy race where you won't feel pushed. If it is easy, you are doing it wrong.
Get into a mindset where you know the pain is coming and then welcome it in. Make it a sandwich. Get it a glass of ice tea. Make it comfortable because it isn't leaving any time soon. That invitation to pain is what will separate you from the pack. Most people go through life with a pain avoidance mentality. They remain average.

If you want to achieve something great, keep going when all signs point to a yield or stop sign. Keep going when your body says "WTF?" (where's the finish?). Know your racing body. There is a fine line between insanity and recklessness. Race insane, not reckless. This will come with experience. You may have some implosions. This just means you are trying. Show me a person who has never failed, and I will show you a person who has never really tried anything.

We have our District Championships tomorrow. This is where hard work, dedication, and destiny meet. It is the culmination of early morning practices, 8 mile long runs, and summer running that combine into a perfect storm. This will be our reward. Our time to shine. If we had any upper body strength, we would carry ourselves off the field.

Let's recommit to all of this and reach our full potential.

XC 101 - 7/30/2014

To be honest, when I first started coaching Cross Country, I knew very little about the sport. I did not participate in any high school sports and simply knew that it involved a lot of running. As a developing adult runner, I was immediately drawn to the spirit of the kids and the excitement of racing. Over the years, I have seen that most people do not know much about cross country. If you are reading this, you may be a seasoned veteran, a new athlete, a curious parent, or my wife (she is my #1 fan). This post is geared towards the person who knows next to nothing about Cross Country, other than it is a lot of running.

What is Cross Country?
Cross Country (usually abbreviated XC) is a competitive team sport for 7th-12th grade boys and girls. Training is considered to be year round, but is generally broken up into different phases, with the summer months being the crucial base building phase. Most of your teams fall results will be directly related to the duration and quality of the summer workouts. Most races are 5 km, or 3.1 miles, with some meets having the JV girls race a 2 mile course. Courses are mostly run on grassy fields or wooded paths. Some course will have more hills than others or may include small obstacles such as hay bales or logs to make the course more challenging.

Scoring for XC is a team based score. Lowest score wins. What? Yep, the goal is to get the lowest score total. Each team usually consists of 7 runners who all compete in the same race, on same course, against all the other schools. All runners earn a place at finish, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc, with that being their score. The top 5 runners from each school are added up and that is the team score. Although the 6th and 7th runners on each team don't earn points for the team, they still contribute by "pushing." Does that mean they get to physically push other people like a football lineman? That would be fun, but no. They can push the scores of other teams higher (remember, lower is better) if they can finish ahead of the other teams' top 5 finishers. They can also help determine a win in the event of a tie in the scoring of two teams' top 5 runners. The 6th runner comes into play at that point and breaks the tie. A goal of a top team is to get a perfect score of 15. This places them in 1st-5th, beating every single runner on every single team.

Why do it?
To the average high school athlete, running is some type of punishment. Something you are forced to do. With XC, running turns into something you want to do. It teaches you self-discipline. Because a lot of the training is in the summer and not always with the coach nearby to monitor, the successful XC runner has to develop the discipline on their own to get better. The successful XC runner generally has an inner desire and motivation to do well. XC running also teaches accountability. You are accountable for yourself, but also your teammates. Your success as a team is determined by not only your own running and conditioning, but the work and effort put in by your team. Knowing that your team is relying on your effort to win will keep you accountable and provide that motivation to keep going. XC will also teach you humility and patience. Being great at XC takes time. There will be many races that you will be bringing up the rear or stuck in the middle. There will be a learning curve on pacing...don't go out too fast or you'll (almost) die by mile 2. Don't go out too slow or you'll run out of time to get to the head of the pack. Over time, you'll discover the right pace and be able to push past your boundaries.

There it is, XC 101. I hope you'll discover that being a part of the XC team is one of the defining moments of your high school experience.

"What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals." - Henry David Thoreau

Top 10 Things I've Learned Since Coaching XC - 7/14/2014

In only my 4th year coaching this wonderful sport, I've picked up a few thing about XC and the athletes:
1. XC Runners are "unique." Yes, this is code for weird. What kind of kid wants to wake up a few hours before school starts so they can get 5 miles of work in? A real special kid. A dedicated, motivated (most of the time), and focused individual that can put off the instant gratification for the larger payoff at the end of the season.

2. XC Runners love water. They can go through about 1.2 billion (yes, with a b) gallons of water in a workout. In addition, with me spouting off about the importance of proper hydration, they are drinking throughout the day and night. This is the reason for the long lines at the porta-potties at XC meets.

3. As a sport, XC does not get much respect. At the High School level, we rank just above the Anime club. I am not sure how this came to be since we RACE a 5K course. There is a difference between running a 5K and racing a 5K. Racing a 5K is pure pain from 100 meters on (if you are doing it right). You want to let up so badly as your body is screaming at you. You are racing against a seasoned senior racer, and you have something to prove. You are doing something that strikes absolute fear in the hearts of most athletes on campus. This is why XC runners get the utmost respect from me.

4. XC Runners are not shy talking about their pee and poop needs. As a runner myself, I understand. No one wants to get caught mid run having "the urges" and not be able to stop. The actual act of running encourages this, and the amount of water consumed does not help. It is openly discussed during warm ups and after meets. It is okay.

5. Heaven is wearing a pair of Nike shorts and a t-shirt all day.Every day. XC Runners generally have no interest in dressing up or pretending to be someone they are not. They are athletes and dress like it (within dress code policy, of course).

6. Every XC Runner has abs of steel that set off metal detectors at airports. It's because they are sticks. Yes, they work out like crazy and have a great core. But, it also helps they are 0.32% body fat. They are not completely ripped from head to toe, but their core is probably one of the strongest at the school (especially if their weight is taken into account)

7. Every XC Runner decides to quit XC. Every season. Most do not. You know this is absolutely the truth. XC is so brutal on the body that it takes a toll on even the most seasoned runners. The ground force of each step is equivalent to 2.5 times their body weight. They slam the ground with about 300lbs of force with every foot strike (about 4000-6000 times per practice). Most of my coaching is making them mentally stronger. I'm in the business of teaching kids how to not quit when it gets tough.

8. Most XC Runners quietly laugh at sprinters...While at the same time, wish they were as speedy. Hey, we're a different breed. Yes, both athletes run, but the running itself is different, resulting in different athletes. The thought of a 4 x 200m, 2 x 100m workout is laughable to a distance runner. Our warm ups take longer than that. Our running develops a stronger respiratory and cardiovascular system in addition to the muscular strength. This takes time and miles. Period.

9. 99% of the universe thinks of XC as an individual sport. WRONG! We are a team and get scored as a team. For most meets, our Varsity consists of our top 7 runners, with the top 5 being scored based on their finish places. Add up their scores, and the team with the lowest score wins. Kind of like golf. There is a ton of strategy that takes place during the race to ensure success, including pacing, surging and running in packs. As a team sport, XC runners have each other to support and encourage them. A later blog post will be dedicated as an intro to XC that will go into this in more detail

10. XC Runners form a tight family. When you go through miles of training together and spend all day at meets, bonds form. These shared experiences make up the memories they will cherish for a long time. They share the victories and the defeats. The injuries and the breakthroughs. The bus rides to and from. The stops for lunch sometimes. The out of town meets. These all get filed away and become a part of the team experience. I'm sure other sports have their own version of this, but for me, my XC team is part of my family and will always have a special place in my heart.

Shocking! Local High School Coach Tells Athletes What They Really Need To Hear - 6/30/2014

Six days a week during Cross Country season, you'll find local high school coaches at school before 6:00 a.m. Whether for a practice or to leave for a meet, they are there. Dedicated to their team and the improvements they have been working on all season. In only my 4th year now as a Cross Country coach, I have tried to piece together what I feel every one of my athletes should know. Here are my top 8:
1. You are better that you think. Most athletes come into the program unsure of themselves. I understand. It's high school. You may be the incoming freshman surrounded by pure athletes. You may be thinking you could never achieve what these guys and girls are doing. I have news for you. That 6' 1" professional (you're thinking) athlete was 5'2" when I first saw him show up for summer camp. He struggled to fit in, could not do a running drill and regularly got beat at meets. He worked hard, believed in himself, had others believe in him (see #4), and trusted that he could do it. You have it in you to be GREAT. Just believe in yourself.

2. Talk to me about anything (almost anytime). Feel free to talk to me about anything. If it is about something unrelated to the current workout or practice, save it for later. We have only x amount of time to get things handled, and any interruption affects the entire team. I am available almost anytime (it seems like a 24/7 job sometimes). I want to know about your personal lives. How's your family? Did your little brother get honor roll? How's your dog/cat/turtle/goat/steer/chickens? Did you make an "A" in Ms. Robinson's class? Just not necessarily during practice. Hang out afterwards, or better yet, get there early. We'll talk then. See me in between classes. After school. After a meet. Before school. On all the social media sites. Just save the practice times for working out, improving yourself and improving the team.

3. You are not as good as you think sometimes. Wait a second. #1 says the complete opposite. What gives? Yes, most athletes come into the program unsure of themselves. Some athletes come in feeling bulletproof though. "I cannot get hurt." "I don't have to do the cool down." "I don't need to lift." All thoughts that keep you from getting better. Can you be good without doing all the workouts as prescribed to the letter? Sure. If you want to be good at something doing the minimum or cutting corners, that is fine. You will never be GREAT doing that. If you are okay with just being good, our JV team will always have a spot for you. If you want to be GREAT, be prepared to be pushed beyond your preconceived barriers. You can ALWAYS improve. Don't get stuck in a mindset that being good at something is good enough. Come in with a mindset that you can improve yourself.

4. I believe in you. I believe every a student athlete can be great. Will it take hard work and dedication? Absolutely. I believe you have "it" in you. Show up to practice. Everyday. Put 100% into everything. Hydration, fuel, recovery. Running, lifting, core work. Be patient and trust in the process. I believe in you, even when you are having doubts. I have witnessed first hand the turn around an athlete can have by having someone believe in them when they aren't sure of themselves. You CAN do it.

5. Expect to be coached. I will tell you what you don't want to hear sometimes. I will do it in a way that is constructive and hopefully taken well. When I do this, don't take it as me coming down on you or not believing in you. It is all part of the process of improvement. If there was no area you could improve on, you would remain exactly where you are. I will always try to get the absolute best out of you. Remember, I believe in you (see above).

6. I am here for you. If you ever need me, I will be there for you. Even after you leave the program. I want to be there for your awards ceremonies, high school graduation, military graduations, college graduations, and your wedding (I better get an invite). That means letters of recommendation for college, being a reference for a job, helping you with college applications and scholarships. Don't be afraid to ask. It is something I would do proudly.

7. You are loved. Simple and to the point. You have people in your lives that truly care for you. I am one of them. I want you to succeed. In Cross Country. No really. I want you to succeed in Cross Country. Have I mentioned success? In Cross Country? I will love you if you succeed in Cross Country.

I will also love you if you succeed in something else. For real. Even if you aren't initially successful, I will love you. Just keep trying and give 100% of yourself to something. You have people in your life who are there for you, believe in you, and love you. Count on them to help you along the way.

8. Expect success. I want you to succeed in anything you are passionate about. Find your passion and pursue it perfectly. Lexus probably has a trademark on the Passionate Pursuit of Perfection, but it does apply to everything you do. If you are passionate about something, pursue it and perfect it. Success will come if you do that. Set your goals, make a plan, and expect to succeed. Develop your self-confidence and hold yourself to a high standard by expecting to succeed. You will work even harder and inspire others around you. Success is also contagious. Once a person is successful, it opens the doors for others to believe, and proves it is possible.
Listen to these words. Reflect on them. Come back to them when you are feeling unsure of yourself. Come back to the post when you are having doubts. When you have a bad day. When you have a tough workout. Any questions? See me before or after practice...just not during :-)

The World Cup Could Teach Track a Little Something - 6/20/2014

Watching the World Cup recently (my first child will now be named John Brooks!), it became very apparent that the international game is truly universal. Soccer (or football to my non-U.S. brethren) is a wildly popular sport, enjoyed by millions of fans worldwide. Here in the U.S., it continues to grow. There is however another sport that is universal, with solidified rules and standards. The international sport of track has fixed distances and each person/team can be measured with the same standards. Why the lack of (perceived on my part) support in running vs. soccer? Track needs more excitement. A Nike sponsored athlete (the greatPhoebe Wright) did a blog post on how baseball could teach track a little something, and so I s̶ᴛ̶ᴏ̶ʟ̶ᴇ̶ took that idea and ran with it for Soccer. Here is what I have come up with to help out our sport:

1. Face Paint. Show up to a track meet, with your face painted with your team logo and you get to sit in the VIP section (by the start/finish line). Yes, track has teams other than national teams (Oregon Project, Brooks Beasts, Bowerman Athletic Club, Mammoth Track Club, NJNY, Furman, etc).
2. Vuvuzelas. Fans are encouraged to bring noisemakers (vuvuzelas, hand clappers, bang sticks, trash can lids, fog horns, etc) to cheer on their squads. Only requirement (request) would be not to use them before the start gun goes off. False start due to early noisemaking? Fan gets lifetime ban or auto entry into the 5,000m race that day. If they walk, they get the lifetime ban. That's right, we're tougher than the USADA.

3. Flopping. Get off to a bad start in the first 20 meters? Flop. Get boxed in? Flop. Have dead legs in the last 200m of your race? Flop. If you're a fan favorite, the race will get paused and you will get an immediate trainer out to you with the magic spray (If you know what that spray is, I'll take a case of it). Everyone gets positioned according to where they were when the flop happened, and the race resumes (Flotrack is on hand at every major meet to video, right?). The flopper gets moved forward or out, (their choice) by 2 meters.

4. Yellow/Red Cards. Infractions could be handed out for veering too wide on a straight away, elbowing someone, looking back over your shoulder too many times (I see you Edward Cheserek), really tripping someone (not like Gabriele Grunewald), or spiking an opponent (on purpose)
5. Goal/Finish line keeper. A teammate will be at the finish line to block your opponents from crossing first. Contact is encouraged. A different element to your training will now be necessary. For longer distance races, the Finish line keeper could make contact every 800 meters.

I am sure others will come up with more ideas. Feel free to add your own and discuss in the comments below.

Consistency Is Key - 6/16/2014

One of the key aspects of being a successful, competitive runner is consistency. You have to be comfortable getting into a routine. Once running has become a part of your lifestyle you can feel free to change it up. Until then, run at the same time every single workout you run. Many successful athletes eat at the same times daily, hydrate on a regular basis and do not fluctuate their sleep schedules. Ever. Am I saying you need to go to these extremes as a high school athlete? Not necessarily, but you can definitely learn and incorporate many of these practices into your training and benefit immensely.
There are 3 things to consider to get the most from your training program. Start with the basics. Prepare your body for the rigors of training.

1. Hydration.Every morning wake up and drink a 12 ounce glass of water. This is especially true if you will be running in the morning. 30 minutes prior to your workout make sure your have at least an additional 12 ounces of water. During your workout make sure you are staying properly hydrated throughout. Make sure you have a refillable water bottle as it will be your best friend...handy whenever you need to have fresh water available. Be mindful of routinely drinking water to replenish whatever you lost through sweat.

2. Fuel up.Your body cannot perform without the proper macronutrients. Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats are the building blocks our bodies need. None of these can be singled out as bad...The proportions of each should be balanced to the athletes individual needs though. The timing of this fuel is also vital. Plan on having a recovery snack or small meal immediately after a hard workout. This should definitely include some carbohydrate and protein for the replenishment of glucose and aid in the rebuilding of stressed muscle tissue. A good example might simply be a plain bagel with peanut butter (along with a tall glass of water).

3. Recovery. The adaptation of our bodies to the stress of the workout takes rest. In order for our bodies to rebuild itself, it cannot be under a constant state of stress. Recovery will vary per athlete, but I want to focus on sleep. During sleep, an athlete's body is slowly rebuilding itself, regenerating energy stores (glycogen, red blood cells, etc), as well as rebuilding micro-tears in muscle fibers. If you are getting enough restful sleep, you are depriving you body of that rebuilding time, and will never reach your full potential. How much sleep is enough? For a high school athlete, I would recommend 8 hours of sleep per night. What does that mean if you have to wake up at 6am to make it to 7am practice? Lights out at 10pm. Have to take out the trash or feed the dog before going to bed? Do it at 9pm. Plan ahead and make sleep a priority.

Do these 3 things consistently, and your body will be better prepared when you start to increase the volume and intensity required to have a successful XC season. I consider these 3 basics to be a solid foundation to grow stronger and faster. Hydrate. Fuel. Recovery.

These basics are the wax on/wax off, sand the floor, and paint the fence of the XC world. Without these, you cannot move onto the more intense work which will be required of your body later. You don't even realize at the time that they are so important, but these lessons all come together and help you reach your goal. If you have made it this far into the post, here is your reward:

The Summer of Commitment - 6/13/2014

The Summer of 2014 is upon us and as you know, that means 100+ degree weather. Summer pool parties. Summer snow cones. Summer sleep ins. Summer naps. Summer Volleyball. Summer fishing. Summer jobs. Summer trips. Summer school (for some). Summer BBQ's. Summer Soccer. Summer SAC camps. Summer babysitting. Believe it or not, your summer can be all of that, plus more. Imagine coming back to school from an awesome summer of the above activities, plus one more:

Summer wickedly-hard core-certified-XC-bad (shut your mouth)!

For me and our team, it means training, training, and more training. Six days a week. Summer is when champions are made or held back. As the great Yoda once said: "Do. Or do not. There is no try." Many of you know about my belief that the Karate Kid movie holds all, and I do mean ALLof life's lessons in a 126 minute synopsis. If you did not know that, just spend a day with me. Here is a snippet of knowledge from Mr. Myagi as an example:

I am a firm believer in this philosophy for excellence in Cross Country running. "Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side safe. Walk middle, sooner or later [squish]. Get squish just like grape. Here, XC same thing. Either you do XC "yes" or XC do "no." You do XC "guess so," [squish]. Just like grape. Understand?" The reason why I believe so is two-fold. First, if you do not buy in 100%, you will NEVERreach your potential, and you will let yourself and your team down. Second, if you do XC "guess so," and skip some steps such as summer training, you will get injured by pushing too hard.

Your Summer of 2014 should become the Summer of Commitment. Commit 100% to the program and to your teammates. Hold each other accountable. Become responsible for your training as well as others. To reach our goals, we must have EVERYONEon board. I know it is easy to slack off from the training, but that is why you have awesome teammates that will motivate you and encourage you along the way. Our training program takes 4-5% of your day, so there should be no excuses. Get up early to knock it out and enjoy the day knowing you did your part to improve yourself and your team. Reach out to others via text, email, Twitter, FB, IG, snail mail, smoke signals, whatever. If you see them at church, HEB, Jalisco's, the mall, keep encouraging them. Go for runs together when we aren't meeting at the school.

I want to see and hear from you this summer. Feel free to comment on the blog.

I am hoping to write here regularly, but you know how that goes sometimes. If there is good feedback and dialogue, it will make it much easier to continue this blog and make it worth the effort.
I am also available via several channels. You and/or your parents can reach out to me at:512-784-7774
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