The typical cross country runner, over the course of their four years as a runner, will run thousands of laps on the track. Not only that, but each school typically only has a few trails to run on for workouts outside of school. At my school, there are roughly five different routes one can take when running outside of the track. One such route is a common one that I'll typically run about three times a week. When compiled with summer running, weeks with non-stop running on that trail, and more, I came to realize that I've run that one trail somewhere in the range of five hundred times. All this is not to brag and tell you how much I run, it's to make the point that sometimes running gets old. We get tired of seeing the same trails and the same lanes of the track day in and day out. This all highlights the necessity of one of the most elusive, yet rewarding types of workout: the game day.
A game day is usually a type of recovery workout where, instead of running a recovery run, a team will play some sort of game that still involves running. This could be anything from ultimate frisbee to soccer. For my team at least, the game day improves morale, increases our competitive spirit, and allows for a nice day of recovery. Granted, it's not a perfect workout. People are more prone to injuries when making the tight turns necessary for certain games. It poses a definite risk, but the reward cannot be ignored either. Especially in times such as these, where competition with other teams is scarce, a nice time for competition can be incredibly beneficial. From an athlete's perspective, I find myself starved for anything to get my blood flowing with competitive energy. While workouts can be their own form of competition, it's not the same as working with a team to dominate another. I often thrive in situations where I'm put against another team to fight for success. It's different when I'm simply racing my own teammates because I want them to succeed just as much as I want myself to succeed. Against others, I find that it's easier to fight for that top spot. Game day is a way to mix things up so that your teammates can become true competitors. Though I understand that some people don't have the same beliefs as I do and can simply compete against their teammates with little regard for them. To those people, all the power to you. For those who find it hard to compete against your friends day in and day out, perhaps game day is the thing for you.
As strange as it may seem, game days can also help with race day strategy. Games like ultimate frisbee teach you how to think on your toes and get out of blobs of people to get open. Races can be a similar experience, as the beginnings of most races can box runners in and stop them from accelerating. Games teach us how to get out of those situations and how to stay aware
in the elongated races where it's easy to zone out. Especially for young runners, not fully accustomed to the utter chaos that is the first section of any race, game days can provide a safe space to practice thinking on your feet (literally).
In a world where we can't see other teams as often and we don't race near as many teams, it's normal to lose that competitive edge. Races become workouts instead of a pulse-pounding, exciting display of ability. Losing this edge can cost teams entire meets. One of the best ways to foster that edge and sharpen it even in isolation is through game days. Once a
week, if that, it's important for a team to have some kind of competition in order to keep people excited and invested in the sport. Of course game days aren't the only way to do this; many teams hold intrasquad meets against themselves. Though I believe that game days are one of the very best ways to keep that competitive edge and teach runners how to compete, stay focused, and put themselves out there.