Personifying the spirit of running

Written on Nov 25th, 2013 by , Category Blogs, Marlene Farrell Blog, Training

Erin Mullins, wearing No. 183 for Cascade High School, takes off at the start of the Nov. 9 Washington State Cross Country Championships at Pasco. (Don Youkey photo)

By Marlene Farrell

Cole Christman, a junior at Wenatchee High School, and Erin Mullins, a freshman at Cascade High School, have had their share of the sports page spotlight this fall. Through a combination of talent and drive, Cole and Erin have risen to prominence on the local and state cross country running scene.

Both put in stellar performances at state meets on Nov. 9. Mullins captured the Class 1A girls title, covering the 5,000-meter Pasco course in 18:32:76. Christman came in 17th (and sixth among juniors) in the Class 4A boys race in 15:44:48, a personal record.

This time, rather than talking about them, I decided Erin and Cole should do the talking. Their views on running and racing can inspire us all.

I began by asking Erin about her training in the summer and during her first high school cross country season.

Cole Christman, center, nears the end of the Washington State Cross Country Championships on Nov. 9 at Pasco. (Gary Paulson photo)

“I liked running in middle school because it was fun,” Erin responded. “I knew that high school was more competitive so I trained in the summer six days a week. In the fall it was more structured. We had intervals and long runs (on set days). In the summer I ran fast and slow stuff each week, but it just depended on how I felt.”

Cole Christman also came into the cross country season with a great base. He attended team practices at 7 a.m. every morning throughout the summer. In addition to long runs, “we threw in intervals now and then.” His week’s mileage throughout the summer and fall was “often around 50 miles a week but sometimes as low as 30 miles a week.”

Erin described her best race as her home meet at Leavenworth Ski Hill on Oct. 5. I was there to witness her charge up the huge hill to the finish with the next competitor nowhere in sight. The spectators cheered wildly, watching Erin embody grace, power and intention, on her way to a course record.

“I liked the Ski Hill meet because I tried hard and I did pretty well,” she said. “Knowing (the hilly terrain of) Ski Hill helped. I like hilly courses because Leavenworth is hilly, but flat courses are easier.”

Cole’s favorite race was his first of the season, Sundodger, hosted by University of Washington, on Sept. 14. It is a highly competitive race.

“I was with the front pack from the start of the race,” Cole recalled. “I felt good the whole time. I never felt any aches.”

Sundodger is a particularly flat and fast course with a lot of spectators cheering amid the giant cedar trees of Lincoln Park. Cole said, “Flat courses are great for fast times. But I also like hilly courses. I’m light and do better.”

To watch Erin and Cole run is to envy their quick strides, powerful push off and streamlined efficiency. But there’s always a next level of performance. To get to there, Erin believes, “I need to improve my speed. I’ve got endurance.” She is looking forward to track season, when there will be more emphasis on speed through workouts like ladders (intervals of increasing and then decreasing length).

Cole described honing his mental toughness as the key to his future success. He said, “I don’t want to take shortcuts in training. I have to be mentally stronger in the races (so I can stay with my competitors and) not let anyone pass.” Cole believes the mental aspects of cross country are its greatest challenge. He said, “There are many runners who have the physical ability to run harder, but they get tired and stop pushing. Once I get tired, or if someone passes me, it (becomes) a head game.”

Erin echoes the belief in a need for mental toughness. “It’s physical, too, but sometimes it comes down to whoever decides to push themselves more.”

I was curious as to what draws Erin and Cole, who would undoubtedly find athletic success elsewhere, to running. Erin stated it simply, “Running can clear your mind. (I like) the freedom of running. When I’m running, I’m running.”

The splendor of a race well run motivates Cole to run and train, day after day. “There’s nothing that compares to the moment you cross the finish line and you know you had a great race,” he said.

Running is considered a solitary pursuit, and yet, cross country is profoundly team-oriented. Training is done as a team – the team knows if you miss a practice or take it easy in a workout. And the team’s score in a race depends on each individual’s placing. Cole said, “In a big race, every single spot counts for the team. It motivates me to pass people, to help the team.”

Erin said running with a team “is way better. They encourage you every day and at the meets so that you are able to do more than you could do alone.”

The team is also a source of inspiration. Cole remembers his freshman year, looking up to teammates Jacob Smith and Nick Boersma, who came in first and sixth at state that year. He said, “I liked to think, ‘That could be me someday.’”

Cole got one more opportunity to test his legs against the best of Oregon and Washington when he raced Nov. 23 in the prestigious Border Clash on the Nike campus in Beaverton, Ore. He finished 63rd despite battling a cold.

Beyond that, Erin and Cole will train through the winter in preparation for the spring track season and a chance to improve their times in the mile- and 2-mile events.

Some of the readers of this blog have been running since before Cole and Erin were born. But we can benefit from the example of young people who personify the spirit of running, and its facets of freedom, perseverance, courage and self-knowledge.

Cole said, “When I am halfway through a workout, I think, ‘How will I feel later? If I cut it short, will I feel guilty?’ If I push hard, I’ll feel good about it. And then it’s that much easier to push hard again the next time.”

And if you are doubting whether to head out for a run, “just consider it like an adventure,” Erin added.

That’s good advice, no matter how old you are. Thanks, Cole and Erin!

Marlene Farrell is a Leavenworth writer and long-distance runner who has qualified twice for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. She also helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club.

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