On Thursday afternoon five local cross country teams lined up behind an ephemeral line of white flour to test their endurance. The meet was the league’s first gathering of the season and was held at Cesar Chavez Park in the Berkeley Marina.
El Cerrito High coach Jeremiah Holland said the course offered challenges of hills and single-track running. “Traditionally runners start fast and slow down a bit,” he said. “Because they’re fighting for position, as soon as it bottle necks their chances are pretty much toast.”
The 1.8-mile course for the JV and 2.97-mile route for the varsity is a spectacular one. Runners hightailed it on dirt, gravel, grass and pavement as they passed the glittering bay water and San Francisco skyline. Near the half-mile marker runners had a clear view of the Richmond shoreline.
Other teams that competed were El Cerrito, De Anza, Making Waves Academy and Saint Patrick/Saint Vincent of Vallejo.
Kennedy Eagles Head Coach Carl Sumler said on this day his JV team of four girls and four boys would not be able to compete for points. Regulations require teams to have five girls and five boys, he said.
Most of Sumler’s long distance runners also compete in other sports such as football, soccer and cheerleading. But three of the girls on his team were on the track team that finished fifth in state last year, he said.
“The three girls are sprinters,” he said, pointing to them as they stretched before their run. “Just to get them to run past a mile was a challenge. The boys just started and have just two weeks of training.”
Welcome to the land of the unknown. For any head coach this can be a good or bad feeling.
Standing beside the lapping waves of the San Francisco Bay and with a cool wind blowing relentlessly, the Eagles cross country team listened to their coach give final instructions before the start of their first race.
“Run with the pack,” Sumler told his team trying to calm their nerves of getting lost on the course. “If the pack is ahead of you, keep a vision on the pack. If not follow the pack, keep them in your grip, and once you see the finish line then that’s when you kick in your speed work.”
When it was all said and done, the Eagles runners made their coach very proud. Out of 10 girl runners, the Eagles Danaya Giddens and Ladejah Dillard came in fourth and fifth respectively. And in the boy’s JV heat that had 38 runners, Lavontae Hill and Aerrick Weems came in first and second respectively.
After the race Weems said his legs were sore and that they felt like noodles. All he wanted to do was sit down, he said.
“The hills were pretty hard for me and I started to get a cramp at the end,” said Weems, who finished with a time of 11:09. “But I had to get my fastest speed at the end and try to catch him [Hill who finished first with a time of 10.56]. It was good though—we had some good competition.”
“They say you got to crawl before you and walk,” Sumler said after realizing what his team had just accomplished. “It was a good day. I can go back to school smiling.”