1013 Cross Country
Thirty-five members of the Bucs Cross Country Team recently completed a two-day, 51 mile run from Tuscaloosa to Hoover. Photo courtesy of Assistant Coach Lori McCombs.
If you think driving to Tuscaloosa is onerous, try telling that to the 35 high school students who recently ran that distance — all 51 miles of it.
The feat was conceptualized by Hoover Cross Country and Track Coach Devon Hind. He envisioned a training activity that would help motivate his team and also prepare them for this fall’s season.
“We had done an 18-hour relay to kick off last season, and Coach knew he needed to raise the bar this year,” said assistant cross country and track coach Lori McCombs. “He called me up toward the end of the 2012-13 school year and said, ‘This wild idea came to me that we can run from track to track.’”
And on Aug. 7 and 8, that’s exactly what they did.
Hind cleared logistical hurdles by first reaching out to the police precincts that cover the 51-mile stretch. With that permission secured, the challenge of assessing athlete stamina came.
At a parents’ meeting just prior to summer break, Hind shared his plan, along with a training regimen for interested participants where training dos and don’ts were clearly identified.
“At five different times throughout the summer, we hosted qualifying events where the students had to meet different time attempts,” said McCombs. “If they were as much as one second over the time limit, they were unable to participate.”
Of the 80-member team, 35 qualified.
“This is the most rewarding thing I have ever done,” said junior and second-year cross country team member Caitlin Camper.
Fellow junior Anna Gerard, now entering her third year on the team, agreed: “As hard and challenging as the run was, it was the greatest thing I – and the whole team – ever did.”
McCombs said she was game for the challenge, until Hind talked her into biking the distance.
“Coach quickly reminded me that we are getting old,” she said, laughing. “He convinced me the consequences of it would be too much, so I trained up to the point I was doing 25 to 30 miles an hour and accompanied the kids that way.”
The group split up their adventure over the course of two days, with the first day taking them from Tuscaloosa to Bessemer. First year runners were capped at 14 miles, while seasoned team members were permitted to complete 30 miles – a marathon and then some. Fueled by frequent stops for Gatorade and graham crackers, participants ended that first day at Splash Adventure Water Park in Bessemer.
After an overnighter at the local Hampton Inn, runners were back on the bus early that morning for round two. Coach Hind fired them up with a motivational speech, and with that, they hit the asphalt for the remaining 21 miles of their journey.
“That first day, there was a lot of chatter amongst the kids,” said McCombs, describing the mixture of nerves and exhilaration that characterized the first leg of their long distance feat. “But on that second day, they were stoic. They would get their snacks, keep their heads down and stay focused.”
If the kids were feeling weary, passersby and local police gave them plenty of pep.
“We had police officers get on their loud speakers, calling out encouraging affirmations to the kids, and plenty of drivers would take the nearest exit, loop back around and ask us what we were doing. Folks were just in awe,” she said, including herself. “It was such an uncommon experience; you thank God that you got to watch every moment. People give this generation a hard time, but let me tell you, these are some of the most mentally and physically tough kids I have ever seen.”