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BC Runners Off to a Strong Start

Berea College cross country runners Antonio Marchi and John Reece took a moment to talk with Coach Mike Johnson on a drizzly Tuesday after practice. Their lean bodies glistened with a mixture of sweat and rain as they asked advice about how to best handle injuries and the BC course. Each had just traversed miles of slippery hills and creek beds in their daily run.

Berea's Cross Country Team Gears Up for Another Winning Season

What does it take to be a successful long-distance runner? “It takes a person who can deal with pain,” the coach says. The BC grad reports that his team members love running – and that’s why they’re willing to subject themselves to the rigors of the sport. “Soccer players like to run as long as they can kick a ball. Basketball players don’t mind running either if they can dribble, pass, shoot and guard, but a runner doesn’t have an object with him.”

What keeps them going mile after mile is often a drive for personal achievement. Veteran runner Laura Finley, sophomore, is pushing to break 22 minutes in the 5K and is determined to continue to run when the season is over. It is the dual aspect of both team and personal goals that make long-distance running special, according to Johnson. “You’re racing against yourself. You can be a winner even if you don’t place against someone because you’re beating yourself.”

One way the Greenville, Tenn., native trains his team is to push them past the point where most people would give up. Recently he had them do five 1-mile runs at a racing pace with only a two minute break in between. “Practices involve pain, but we’re training the body to function at that level.” This level pushes runners to their anaerobic threshold, which Johnson describes as “a state without oxygen that triggers lactic acid in the muscle and there is pain associated with it.”

By experiencing this pain and learning how to run with it, athletes prepare themselves for the experience during races. “I’m hoping it will help them to develop to a point where some of them will be ready to qualify for the national challenge.”

Reece explained how a cross country runner copes. “A lot of it’s mental … not stopping when you want to and keeping going and putting the pain in the back of your mind and forgetting it.”

There are nine runners on each BC team and Johnson is just getting to know most of his men’s team as most are new. The women have fewer rookies, but are currently struggling with some injuries. Still Johnson was pleased with their first meet, which took place Saturday, Sept. 9, at Centre College against four other teams. The Mountaineer men came in second place behind Centre College and, while the ladies ended up last, the coach is not discouraged. “That’s a starting place and it’s a tough course – probably the toughest we’re on.”

Six girls finished the race, with Britin Ellard coming in first for BC and 17th in the meet with a time of 23:15. Eight boys completed the race. First place for BC was Marchi, a native of Argentina, who came in eighth place with a time of 28:38 in the 8K.

As to who are his expected standouts for the season, the coach would only say, “Things can change as people get in better shape and as courses change. Injuries play a role and much depends on how much sleep they get and sickness.”

It is clear that Johnson loves the sport and has a great deal of respect for his athletes, both present and past. “The Lindsey Wilson, Union and Centre college coaches are my former athletes. When we go places to compete we talk to each other and enjoy each others’ company, but we’re there for the competition.”

A former high school long-distance runner, the BC coach is proud of the course, which starts and ends in the athletic fields behind the Woods-Penniman building. It is “really cross country and probably one of the finest courses.” Runners travel through a creek twice, on flat meadows and up steep and rolling wooded hills. He credits BC forester John Perry with improvements such as ornamental trees, buried logs to prevent soil erosion and painted markers. “Perry was a former UK cross country and track star so he understands what it takes to make a great course.”

Even though the season has just begun, Coach Johnson is already looking toward the regional and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championship in Louisville, Ky., this November. He encourages athletes to run on weekends at least 9 to 12 miles and to continue racking up the miles in the off season and summer. To keep in shape, Johnson says runners should be putting in between 30 and 60 miles per week. “It makes training a whole lot easier and better and keeps injuries down.”

The BC runners put their intensive training to use at the annual Berea Invitational, which was held here Saturday, Sept. 16. Four men’s and five women’s teams participated. The Berea men came out on top with 37 points to second place Lindsey Wilson’s 65. The women’s team finished in fourth place ahead of Pikeville College. Marchi and Ellard had the fastest times for Berea with Marchi coming in second overall.

The cross country team will travel to the University of Louisville on Sept. 23 to participate in the Greater Louisville Classic.

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