Wood's Words - Pack Running

Andersen Wood is a senior runner at Marcus HS and shares his thoughts on all things running related

Through running cross country for the last four years, I've had the pleasure of running in all conditions of weather. From violent wind and rain, to shin-deep mud, and even sleet, I've seen just about everything Texas weather has to offer. With winter training on the horizon, it's important to look at how running in even the hardest situations make us closer as a team. Weather isn't the only thing that can make a workout tough. Sometimes, external factors can make a workout just as difficult. Juggling school and cross country is a difficult task that even most seniors haven't mastered. The one thing that is constant during every possible type of workout is your running group. The people running beside you step for step for miles in the worst conditions Mother Nature can throw at you are the people that make finishing the workouts possible.

Gap time (the time between runners of the same team during a race) can make or break a race. It can mean the difference between first and last. The lowest gap times are those of teams who run in tightly-knit packs. Running in a pack is one of the cornerstones of cross country, but it's incredibly hard to get good at. This is because it not only requires careful focus and physical coordination. It requires a deep level of trust and understanding between runners. One thing my coach loved to do was to give us all red belts and then tie ropes to those belts, connecting the whole running group, then he'd send us out on a twelve mile run. Oftentimes, the first few miles were treacherous and we'd all trip over ourselves. Slowly, as we began to communicate, the group caught its stride and we were able to run as a single organism, rather than a group of individuals. For weeks, we'd run tied together through forests, sidewalks, and around pedestrians. Before long, we all knew how those around us ran and how to accommodate for each other's movements. When track season arrived, it was time for us to see if all of the tripping had been worth it. To everyone's surprise, when we began our first two-mile of the track season, everyone who'd been tied together ran step for step with one another for the first mile. We ran as if we were tied together, but there were no ropes anymore. Our gap time for that race was under ten seconds.

While ropes are surely helpful tools to improve a group's pack running abilities, there is an interpersonal aspect that is arguably more important. Running a difficult workout with a group of people bonds you in a unique way. I've started a workout surrounded by complete strangers, but running mile repeats with them made us as close as relatives. For example, last winter I ran a half-marathon. I was registered by myself and I had every intention of running it alone. Once the race had started and the adrenaline began to fade around mile five, I looked around and realized that I was slowing down. That was until I was caught by a trio of complete strangers. They didn't know each other and I didn't know them. Somehow, we all formed a tight pack and ran as a unit. We learned how the others ran and were able to form a group. We offered words of encouragement to one another and pushed each other to stay on the pace. This speaks to our desire to run with others as well as the positive community that surrounds running. I've never been to a road race that wasn't packed to the brim with some of the kindest people I've ever met. Humans are instinctively social beings; they thrive when they're in groups. Running with others allows us to run faster, as well as bonding us closer together. Even when we're stretching after the workout, just talking to the group brings us closer together. Quickly, running groups become more like families than training packs.

It's not just hard workouts that bring us all closer together. In the off-season, my team has a game day every Tuesday, where we play frisbee or something similar before we go do a recovery run. This both scratches our competitive itch when there are no races as well as bring us closer as a unit. When we're on a team, cooperating with one another to achieve a common goal, we learn how to rely on each other as well as support those around us. Sometimes, coaches focus entirely on training, but it's sterile and inorganic. A team needs to be focused, of course, but it also needs to be a welcoming family. That positivity can grow into tangible success. Personally, I find myself far more motivated during a race if I can see a member of my own team ahead because all I want to do is catch them and create our pack. That motivation has led to a slew of PRs since I've been running and it's all reliant on being close to those around me. My team is my family and without them racing would be nearly impossible.

If you can manage to put together a pack during a race, it reduces gap time, but it also does something else. During a race, you're in a battle between your body and your mind, in which your mind is pushing your body to go faster. That battle becomes a lot harder when you're getting passed. If a team swarms around you in their tightly-knit pack, it can end your race. That's why pack running not only helps gap time, but also helps in the mental battle against other competitors. So, when you're in a race and you're in that battle against yourself, look around you. Your team is out there somewhere and they need you. Form your pack and run like you're tied together.