What is it that separates the elite Division I athletes from the rest?
Ask the top Hoosier cross country runners and they’ll tell you it’s their mentality, that not everyone has the fortitude to endure the day-to-day, mental grind.
“You’ve got to be tough,” junior Andy Bayer said. “No matter how talented you are, when you’re running 10,000 meters, it’s not going to feel good.”
Part of the challenge for runners is having the discipline to do the little things others don’t want to do, senior Andrew Poore explained.
“On distance runners specifically, you have to be willing to make lifestyle changes,” he said. “It’s very different from the normal college student.”
Whether it is going on runs between classes or staying in on a weekend to make sure they get enough sleep, runners must always put running first to be elite, Poore said.
That late-night call for pizza? Forget about it.
IU Coach Ron Helmer is now in his fifth season at IU coaching men’s and women’s track and field and cross country, and he spent eight years at Georgetown University prior to his arrival in Bloomington. After seeing hundreds of collegiate runners, Helmer said he knows when someone has the mindset of an elite athlete.
“You have to love to compete,” Helmer said. “Obviously, you have to be talented. You have to train at a very high level, but none of that matters if you don’t have the ability to go into those high-pressure situations and be able to enjoy that challenge.”
Helmer said the difference between good and great in distance running lies in one’s confidence and swagger, the runner’s ability to line up every day and give the opponent their best shot without regard for how well anyone else performs.
Bayer, Poore, seniors Adrien Dannemiller and Ben Hubers all have that quality, Helmer said.
Dannemiller agreed, noting how important confidence is to a runner’s success.
“You have to know that you can run with the top guys,” Dannemiller said. “You can’t be afraid. Even when you know that you’re not the most talented person in the field, if someone is having a bad day or they mess up, I’m going to be there to pick up the pieces and beat them.”
But it’s not just about being ready whenever someone slips up. The elite runners know they are the best but are humble enough to respect the sport and their competitors.
“I know I’m an elite runner, but I don’t like to think of myself in those terms,” Hubers said. “It keeps me looking forward as opposed to looking backward and keeps me motivated to do the next big thing.”
Unlike some schools that only train during the school year, IU trains year-round to keep its performers in peak condition. Though the runners admit it can be a difficult workload to handle, they said they have all embraced cross country running and said the rewards of the experience are worth the time consumed.
And to those who think elite athletes are crazy for spending too much time honing their craft and not enough partying and having fun, Poore isn’t buying that.
“What you get out of putting yourself into something 100 percent is definitely worth the fun and games you could have had in college,” Poore said. “You’ll still be young after college, plenty of time to have fun.”
For now, Poore and his teammates will continue to compete in their quest to be best, they said, despite the amount of time and work yet to be put in.