Freshmen runners increase training level to adjust to collegiate competition
When IU Coach Ron Helmer gets a freshman on the cross country team, he usually redshirts the athlete.
Helmer said the majority of the freshmen who join IU’s men’s and women’s cross country teams are redshirted their first year, which allows him to help them adjust to collegiate cross country.
Helmer said his main focus for the runners in their first year is learning how to train.
However, the Hoosiers do come across runners like freshman Bethany Neeley, who is currently competing for IU as a true freshman.
Jeremy Coughler is a freshman this year, too, and Helmer said he is training well.
“Some of these kids trained pretty high volume in high school, so it is much easier for them,” Helmer said. “Jeremy Coughler is an example. He is running really well, but he did a lot of volume in high school.”
Sophomore Matt Schwartzer is in his second year competing for the Hoosiers. Schwartzer ran in the Big Ten Championships as a true freshman last year. He placed 25th overall, and he competed in the NCAA Championships race last year as well.
Schwartzer said two major differences between college and high school are the race distance and the competition.
In high school, both men and women run a 5-kilometer race. In college the men run an extra three kilometers, making it an 8-kilometer race. The women switch to a 6-kilometer race in college.
Schwartzer said the number of quality runners jumps to a higher level in college competition.
“In a competitive race in high school, you might have one or two guys that you have to beat,” Schwartzer said. “In a college race you have to beat 25 to 30 guys that are as talented as you.”
Neeley and Schwartzer adjusted to the training in different ways. Schwartzer said he was sore every day last year because of the amount of training.
“Walking to class was one of the hardest things,” Schwartzer said. “My calves were sore. I ran twice as much my first cross country season than I did when I was a senior in high school.”
Neeley is running an estimated 15 to 20 miles more a week than she did in high school. She has been practicing this type of training for over two months now.
Neeley has become familiar with the change and mileage.
“Since I have been doing it now for two months straight I’m pretty used to it,” Neeley said. “It sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t feel like a lot.”
Since Neeley is currently in her freshman year and the championship races have not yet started, she has not had the opportunity to race in the NCAA Championships race. However, Schwartzer did have the opportunity to compete as a true freshman last year.
Schwartzer said he felt more pressure at his high school state meet to perform well than he did at the NCAA Championships last year.
“As a freshman running at the national meet I wasn’t expected to do anything so I didn’t have any pressure,” Schwartzer said. “Running at the state meet you are expected to win. Running at the national meet is like a win-win — people are going to say good job, and if you do bad you’re a freshman in your first 10k.”
According to Helmer, it can take up to two years to get a runner to reach the training and level of competition that the Hoosiers are looking for. The amount of time it takes for a runner to reach the ideal level of training depends on their high school mileage and how much training they did in the summer before the season.
“Some are ready for it pretty quickly because if they do the work they are supposed to over the summer before they get here, that helps to transition them to that higher volume,” Helmer said.
Follow reporter Frank Bonner on Twitter @Frank_Bonner1.
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