Runners try to beat the heat


Kinsley Folsom can pinpoint the exact moment she decided to become a long-distance runner.

The Seymour High School sophomore was playing in her neighborhood and the boys challenged her to a race. She went home that day and told her mother she discovered a new sport.

“Mom,” she declared, “I want to be a runner.”

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Folsom is now one of the best runners for the Owls’ girls cross-country team, and the boys better watch out, too.

It is the heat of the summer with morning cloud cover gradually burning off and temperatures skying to 90 degrees-plus. But the Seymour teams are putting in the miles now so they will run faster when stopwatches click and the weather cools.

Both girls coach Spencer Sunbury, who has a dozen runners, and boys coach Randy Fife, who is tutoring 15 to 18 right now, feel good about their talent levels.

However, when they are not devising workout plans to maximize the ability, they are quietly worried flare-ups of the coronavirus could still result in the cancellation of the season.

The focus for now, though, during the first phase of fall sports conditioning after the loss of high school sports seasons last spring is on sweat. It is easy to become drenched by breakfast.

Regularly meeting in front of the school gym before 8 a.m., the boys and girls teams are social distancing companions. They do not train together, only in the vicinity of one another. In separate groups, they perform loosening-up calisthenics and then take team runs.

On a recent morning, the girls set out to cover a course that was estimated to take 25 minutes. The boys were sent out for about 35 minutes. Then each group stretched all over again, exercises designed to make them tougher but also loosen them up.

Compared to most sports, however, the most fundamental equipment necessary for cross-country running is legs. Athletes can also simply dash out the front door of their homes to do a workout on a non-team day.

Still, especially after the loneliness of spring when track and field was called off, the Owls are enjoying being together as teammates, sharing the effort.

“We have the team together,” Folsom said. “It builds a chemistry.”

The runners spent months wondering if they would even be allowed to reach this point in training. That was the great unknown as millions of people worldwide were stricken by the COVID-19 pandemic, people were urged to stay home and stay far apart.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association has prepared a detailed plan for resuming sports, and that has given the runners encouragement.

“I was pretty hopeful we would have a season,” Owls junior Samantha Jacobi said.

Jacobi said she needs the motivation of running with teammates to bring out her best. Left on her own, she would not work as hard.

“I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I’m really lazy.”

The atmosphere did not encourage laziness. Runners could stride closely enough together to push one another’s pace without breathing on each other’s bodies.

“We’re outdoors,” Sunbury said. “There’s no physical contact.”

He believes this team feels it “didn’t do as well as it wanted. The juniors are excited to take charge.”

Jacobi said she has run since middle school and when things get difficult sometimes questions herself.

“I ask myself, ‘Why do I do this?’” she said. “Because it’s so painful.”

But when she finishes running hard, she has the answer: “It makes me feel good.”

Connor Harriss and Ethan Dippold feel at their best with morning runs, a personal preference. They are also enjoying being back together in a formal setting with teammates instead of trying to stay in shape on their own since March.

“I stayed fit,” Dippold said. “It was difficult. It makes it easier when we’re in a group.”

Right now, the runners are conscious about following the guidelines set out by the IHSAA for conditioning so they can ease toward the scheduled season.

“We’re just trying to train safe,” Harriss said.

Fife, Harriss and Dippold all think if things proceed normally, the Owls could have a strong season.

“We’re solid,” Dippold said.

Harriss said Seymour has enough back to make an impact.

“I think we have a strong senior group,” he said.

During the end-of-session stretching, there was some minor groaning and grumbling from both camps. Fife reminded the boys that things will get easier the more effort they put in.

Dippold was not intimidated. It was better to have the whole team together than to worry about rounding up a half-dozen runners for a freelance run.

“It’s great,” Dippold said.

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