By Mike Smith
As Thanksgiving has passed and we head into the season of giving, I’d like to extend a strong thank you to the NHIAA, the Indoor Track committee, and specifically Larry Martin, for their tireless effort in trying to secure an indoor track season. Most of you have already heard there will be no indoor track state meet or “league” this year, and while that is a huge bummer, you would have had to be hugely optimistic to have felt we were right back to normal. Regardless of which lens you view this pandemic, the ability for the NHIAA to host an indoor track season is and always will be, tenuous. Let’s recognize the difficulties of hosting a season, before we look at what this season CAN be.
First of all, most of our venues for indoor track are universities. UNH, Dartmouth, and Plymouth State all have their own vaccine mandates and student expectations that don’t exactly jive with what’s going on in public schools across the state. I can’t vouch for Phillips Exeter, but it’s safe to say they regulate COVID differently than each of the various schools that make up the Indoor Track league. To expect them to “agree” to let kids from public schools with no specific “code’ regarding COVID is a reach. PEA is actually willing to host up to 6 meets but are instituting a policy that attending schools file an “affidavit” that all coaches and athletes in attendance are vaccinated. To be honest, I don’t blame them. Why would they want that responsibility?
Over the years we’ve been lucky for the grace of these institutions to allow us to use their facilities. While it does benefit them to expose high school athletes to their facilities, we do impose additional considerations the schools need to deal with when they already have a lot on their plates. Expecting them to extend themselves even more under stressful times really doesn’t make much sense.
So what can we do? To be honest I had planned to step away from coaching indoor this year anyway (I’m always trying to get some downtime between the fall and spring seasons but often end up stepping in to coach indoor.) I suppose for us here at Mascenic it’s easier than most as with a relatively small team made smaller by participation in basketball. I have only a few distance kids (and two throwers) who really miss out on the indoor season anyway. My distance kids are furthering their season by participating in Junior Olympic cross country that will take them right into the holiday season where they will take a bit of a break. Not to mention that indoor track was never very friendly to distance runners, with the need to hit qualifying marks in order to double. Unless you were an upper echelon athlete you’d travel to Durham for 4 to 15 minutes of racing, with a whole lot of “warming up” and “cooling down.”
After that, I’ve already been working on coming up with a “schedule” of events for them to participate in throughout the winter. We have our local New Year’s Day race to get the ball rolling and then a twice a month series of “runs” they can anchor their training towards. I also developed a half marathon training program to help them get through the drudgery of winter with a half marathon I offer up right before the beginning of spring track to help bridge the gap.
For those throwers finding time to work with them during the winter has always been difficult. Without much for a weight room and nowhere other than the gym to throw anything, our practice time was always limited to days before basketball games when the gym was available. Those time slots are still the same so nothing’s changed there. And let’s face it, blowing a Saturday or Sunday, traveling all the way to UNH or Dartmouth for 3 throws plus a couple warm up throws hardly made it worth it to try to encourage new athletes to join the team during the winter.
So for those of you looking for the “brighter side” realize with no Indoor Track schedule you are totally free to do WHATEVER YOU WANT! If we have a snow free year, host some outdoor events. If you can figure out a way to get something done inside, go right ahead. A sprint, jumps and throws meet in a gymnasium? Go for it. Maybe a meet series at a sports complex like the Hampshire Dome or FPU’s bubble. Or get creative like they did (in upstate NY I believe) and host a meet inside a parking complex free of snow. Or in an unused warehouse.
We’re also going to host a ladies specific strength training program once a week after school. Looking to help ensure the ladies are injury free in the coming seasons. My assistant coach will lead a weekly “hour of power” focusing on the target areas that usually afflict young female runners with injury. This will be a good “change of pace” to help get through the winter blues.
It’s time to get creative, and while that might make some of you uncomfortable, I can tell you it’s worth it to you and your program. We get accustomed to having each season and the schedule laid on our lap year after year, which can lead to stagnation. Being a smaller school with limited resources has forced my hand (like last year when I had to “create” a grass track to host meets in the spring) and I can tell you that has made me more creative. Changing your focus can be a benefit to your program, forcing you to look at things differently and try something new. And that leads to growth, important for every program.
I mean, I was never looking to host a half marathon for my kids. But in trying to give them something to “focus” on during the six week break between the end of indoor and the beginning of outdoor, something to train for, I’ve created a goal for them to strive for. And while kids don’t necessarily NEED to be able to run a half marathon to run track, if they do I tell them there is nothing that will happen during the track season they won’t be able to handle once they’ve run 13.1 miles.
And that’s a good thing.
Some Other Opportunities!!!