It’s Monday afternoon, the first of a six-day weekly sequence of running for the 2010 Maverick Girls’ Cross Country team. They are giddy about the five-mile run as they sit waiting for their coach, Rachel Skinner, to ignite the spark that will get them on their feet. “Skinner” is a word that means “a person who drives draft animals.” Coach lives up to the name, and also gets the most out of her team by pushing the right buttons at the right time, like another Skinner, the late behavioral psychologist, B. F. Skinner, would do. Today she has surprised the team by not going with the usual 9 mile run.
Mild Monday turns to torture on Tuesday when the training session begins at 5:40 a.m. at Buffalo Bayou “Boot Camp.” “Hills” at Eleanor Tinsley Park highlight the Tuesday regimen. Wednesday afternoon, dubbed by Skinner, “recovery day,” ends not with a treat, but with a seven-minute ice bath to soothe sore muscles. Thursdays it’s back to 5:40 a.m., this time on the track, for more intervals and sixteen 400 meter repeats. Friday is easy, according to coach, and Saturday is race day.
The entire team agrees, however: these weekly work outs are easy compared to the pre-season training camp in Colorado. “The only way these girls can make it is by sticking together,” said Skinner. “Our pre-season training camp in Colorado provided us with physical and mental challenges that knitted us real tight.”
“Everyone goes through it, and no one is alone,” said Nicole Gras (’11).
“You don’t want to let other people down, because you made the commitment to the team.” said Catherine Sullivan (’13).
“We encourage each other,” said Martha Daniel (’13). “A lot of running is about helping the team out.”
The defining moment for the 2010 team occurred on a mountain training hike in Winter Park, Colorado. Two miles from the summit of Byers Peak a light rain blanketed the team. After they all touched the top and took a photo, hail hit and forced the group back to the tree line where they took cover.
“From that point on it was about problem solving,” said Gras.
“Coach Jensen (Bridget) (’81) told us to stay together and fortunately we had two things going for us, said Daniel. “Jessica Van Sweringen (’11), using her mountaineering skills, helped us navigate further down, and then a miracle happened. Carson Gibson’s (’12) i Phone powered up with 3 bars and we were able to use a map app to get to the road.
“We’d been hiking and running each day and were getting exhausted, and for some reason, getting totally lost made us relax and laugh,” said Anne Johnson (’11). “I think the experience shows that we’re a team that rolls with the punches, has a great sense of humor and optimism, and isn’t afraid of forging forward, even when the unknown looms ahead.”
“Nothing can compare to Colorado,” said Megan Lillie (’12).
“Everything else is easier. ‘It’s The Climb,’” quipped Sullivan.
Race day, however, is not as easy as last year. Instead of the 2 mile length, the girls are running 3 miles, just like the boys. “It has been a challenge to acclimate to the extra mile,” said Skinner. “We are working with our middle school runners now to get them primed for next year. The biggest hurdle is finding competition with SPC schools before we see them at the finals. This weekend at South Zone in Austin will give us a sample of what to expect in early November.”
The Mavericks are taking no chances as they try to repeat as SPC champs in Dallas two weeks from Friday. Skinner has scheduled multiple meets with some of the best 5A schools in the state and country. At the McNeil Invitational race earlier in the month, St. John’s finished in the middle of the pack of the big leagues. They beat out Austin Westlake among other large public school teams.
Using technology of her own, coach also gathers the times of runners the team has not seen and creates a virtual race to plan a strategy of attack. “After this weekend, this is it. The last two weeks are about refining and tapering,” said Skinner.
From mountains and hail in Colorado to hills and ice in Houston, this pack will be ready to turn it on when Coach Skinner pushes the switch to the point of no return. And when they do, they’ll have more than three bars to power them to the finish line.