She toed the white starting line, careful not to cross over even an inch.
Kinsey Gomez took a breath to steady the nerves that had plagued her throughout the warm up. She glanced at the man holding the starting gun and then back to the white line at her feet.
The gun fired.
As the swarm of distance runners flooded the course, Gomez’s nerves vanished and her mind went blank.
The thought process that follows the start of a race is different for every long-distance runner, but Gomez, a Vandal alumna, said she runs some of her best races when her mind goes blank and she only focuses on running.
Tim Delcourt, a senior cross-country athlete, said he feels a multitude of similar emotions — eagerness, anxiousness, stress — but once the gun goes off, they all melt away.
“I think everyone can agree — it just goes away, and then you just go out and do your thing,” Delcourt said.
Long distance running is a sport all about managing discomfort — this was how Idaho Assistant Cross-Country Coach Travis Floeck described it.
“Every time you go out, you know that you’re going to have to manage a lot of discomfort, and there’s no way around it,” Floeck said.
Delcourt said he agrees with Floeck that managing the discomfort that runners experience throughout the race is key. He said he finds himself overlooking the number of kilometers he has to run and instead focuses his attention on time.
“If I only have to hurt for 10 minutes, is that really so much to ask?” Delcourt said.
According to Floeck, distance running is more than what is on the surface, and there is a lot that happens behind the scenes the spectators don’t see.
“They’re pretty much running every day,” Floeck said. “That’s where it starts, but at the same time it’s so much more than just going out and running.”
In addition to logging plenty of miles — as many as 80 every week for some athletes — the runners also focus their attention on the entire body.
Gomez, a member of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, said she prefers to focus on her glutes core and back.
“A lot of people may not realize that your core isn’t all in the front, but it travels to your back as well,” Gomez said.
She said a lot of running-related injuries are caused by tightness in the hips, and focusing on strengthening the muscles around them can help reduce the likelihood of injury.
Coordination, posture and balance are only a few aspects the athletes at Idaho try to strengthen on a daily basis. If someone was to look at one of the runner’s weekly schedule, Floeck said they may be surprised at what they find.
“I think that if you were to look at somebody’s schedule there would be a lot of things on there that you wouldn’t quite know what those were, because there is a lot of variety in what they’re doing every day,” Floeck said.
For the athlete’s sake, Floeck said he tries to make every day a little different than the last. Monotony is a common problem in the running world, and he said changing something as simple as the scenery can make a difference in an athlete’s day of practice.
Not only do the runners maintain a vigorous training schedule, but they also place a huge emphasis on sleep and nutrition.
Delcourt stressed the importance of a sleep routine, and Gomez said she often feels she can’t even function without getting eight to nine hours of sleep.
“I think there’s a stigma out there, especially with distance running, that if you are smaller and eat less, you’ll run faster, and I just don’t think that’s the right way to go about things,” Gomez said. “I’m a big believer that if you fuel yourself right, it can really be a huge benefit in training.”
All of these practices take a large amount of time, which means some college athletes have chosen to forfeit many socializing opportunities. For example, while many students relax on a Saturday morning, Floeck said the team is up at 8 a.m. for a 14-mile run.
“It takes a lot of dedication to force yourself, when a lot of your peers are going out and having fun, to go to bed early on a Friday night,” Floeck said.
Some people would label these types of situations as sacrifices, but Floeck said the team tries not to see it that way.
“We always look at it as investments,” Floeck said. “They have these big goals and they want to accomplish great things, and they want to run faster than they ever have, so when we make those decisions, we like to think of them as investments toward our goals.”
Delcourt said the daily grind is not quite as impossible as it may seem to an outsider looking in, at least that’s what he thinks when he is sitting in the middle of it. He said once he takes a moment to step back and look at his daily routine, however, he sees a hint of craziness he never noticed before.
“But when you’re in it, you’re so focused — it’s just your routine — and you don’t even think about doing anything different,” Delcourt said. “When you have your time off, you’re just thinking, ‘Why the hell am I not running?’”
This is the moment Delcourt said he starts to not feel like himself, and he finds himself taking a little jog despite taking a much needed break from his training regime. He said he thinks for most runners, it’s about having an outlet.
“Some people use it as a de-stressor, some people use it to be productive and creative, and some people just use it as a tool to be better. For me, I use all of it — it just depends on the day,” Delcourt said.
At the end of the day, when he steps onto the starting line, Delcourt said he is reminded of a quote he heard from a speaker that came to talk with the team: “Don’t cheat yourself out of something you deserve.”
“You do all of this work, but if you don’t run with it the day of, why did you do all the work?” Delcourt said. “Why would you cheat yourself out of three months of hard work when you can just dig down deep for 10 minutes and have a good day?”
Floeck said the human body is an amazing thing in how it can adapt and condition itself, and the team is just focusing on callousing themselves up. He breaks down long-distance running into three basic ingredients — stress, rest and improvement.
“You go out and run and hope that you’ve put the stress on your body and you rest, and you hope a little miracle happens and you get better the next day,” Floeck said. “Those are the basics.”