Although there are good cross country coaches in high school, college coaches understand training better and increase the intensity of the conditioning.
“I was running 75 miles a week in the fall,” Behnke said.
This past fall, the IU women’s cross country team showed signs of success despite its youth. Most of the team was comprised of freshmen and sophomores by eligibility, and half of the front seven were racing for the first time in a college meet.
“It took us a little bit to learn to race as a team. It was a big mental thing,” Behnke said.
Despite the team not making nationals, Behnke set a personal record at regionals. Her goal heading into the season was to place higher in each of her races, a feat she accomplished in ?almost every race.
The day before a meet, the cross country team goes to the course and runs the race route at a leisurely pace.
The morning of the race, Behnke does a “shake out” — a 10 minute warm-up exercise about four hours before the race, hangs out and eats breakfast.
“Usually for me, it’s oatmeal with bananas and peanut butter with water,” ?Behnke said.
Before a race, the women’s cross country team straightens their hair and creates a special braid to show team solidarity.
While all the IU cross country runners are on the track team, not all the track team members run cross country.
“That’s because cross country is just the distance portion of the track team,” Behnke said.
Summer is the offseason for cross country runners because everyone on the team runs indoor and outdoor track. Compared to outdoor track, indoor track has a smaller track length and is more about strategy.
“I like indoor track because it is controlled,” Behnke said. “There is no weather aspect.”
Although Behnke was recruited by other colleges, she had to make the first step by either emailing coaches or filling out questionnaires.
Behnke is on partial scholarship. Her times are monitored as a condition of her scholarship, but there is no definitive time to beat to maintain it.
During the recruiting process, coaches look at athletes’ potential to see if they did not receive proper training in high school and if they can improve their times with better training in college.
Running well in big races such as regionals and nationals is crucial to keeping a scholarship from IU, because running well at big meets is when there is the most pressure and the team needs to do well, Behnke said.
While running cross country and track is time-consuming, it has helped Behnke manage her time academically.
“It’s all about managing it and using your time wisely,” Behnke said. “There are a lot of aspects of athletics that correlate to the classroom, discipline, hard work.”
Behnke enjoys running because she said she can clear her head and forget about everything else. Socially, the majority of her friends are on the cross country team because they spend so much time together and travel together.
While the women’s and men’s cross country teams do not race together, they travel with each other. On average, the cross country team travels every other weekend to places within driving distance but once a year to a place that requires travel by plane. The team usually travels to Wisconsin twice a season and went to Iowa, Purdue, Indiana State and Seattle this past year.
“I hope that people respect our team because we are not one of the big teams, but we work just as hard,” Behnke said.