Taking it one day at a time

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Cross country athletes are just different types of human beings. Not many people look forward to subjecting their bodies to long distance runs on a daily basis. It hurts. It burns. It’s a laborious ordeal, at least for most.

Jonathan Miller//El Defensor Chieftain: Dylan Gallegos will look to lead the Socorro boys cross country team to state in 2012.

“Running isn’t something people relate to as fun, or something they want to do,” Socorro head cross country coach Steven Montoya said.

Thus, it takes a certain brand of individual to make for a successful cross country runner. A committed individual. A dedicated individual. Someone who holds himself of herself to a high standard. Fortunately for Montoya, he’s got plenty of those types in his program.

“If you look at my group as a whole, they are, in my opinion, a little bit more of your higher achieving kids,” Montoya said. He said last year’s team had around a 3.9 Grade Point Average, as well as the 2012 class valedictorian.

“My kids aren’t very different from one another. We get a smart bunch,” he added.

Even though the 2012 season hasn’t even officially begun, Montoya is already seeing a level of dedication that could very well translate to eventual success. This past Saturday his team had a run-a-thon, and 12 of his kids ran 26 miles. Those miles weren’t sequential as the team ran two miles every hour for 13 hours, but that’s a pretty astounding accomplishment for a teenager nonetheless.

Last Thursday, despite a rained-out practice, Montoya noticed that most of his team members went out and ran an easy 30 minutes on their own.

That’s precisely the type of effort he strives to get out of his team, and it’s a sample of the work ethic cross country runners need to remain consistently devoted to the sport. And the good thing about that devotion is that the runners can literally see the improvements they make over the course of a week, or a month, or a season.

“They are putting forth the big commitment,” Montoya said. “What they put into practice and into getting better, they see that result for them.”

But while the Socorro squad might find an internal drive, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a process in place to keep the team motivated. Montoya has a plan, and employs tactics allowing each individual the best opportunity for success.

They all set team goals and individual goals, and map out how they’re going to accomplish those goals.

Mondays are for analyzing the past weekend’s meet. Montoya appoints a female and a male runner of the week and rewards them with t-shirts. Whenever personal goals are accomplished, they are celebrated.

“My goal is to have everybody feel a little bit of success everyday,” Montoya said.

The team also began the season with a five-week base phase that consisted of generic miles and some speed drills, and all of this takes place with two main goals in mind: to be as fast as they can come November, and to avoid injury.

“Every kid is going to get faster throughout the season, so I have to help them get faster and stay healthy,” Montoya said. “We have to avoid injury.”

Those overall goals will be paramount to this team if they look to improve from the 2011 season. The girls finished 10th in state and had some strong individual efforts, while the boys missed qualifying a state team by just one point.

Montoya said that’s actually a point of encouragement for his boys squad.

“If just one person could have placed one person higher, that means all the difference in the world,” he said.

The boys will face an uphill climb as they have just one state qualifier from 2011 in Luke Malone, but Dylan Gallegos should also prove to be a solid runner in 2012.

The girls have been District 3/3A runners-up three years in a row now, and while they have some spots to fill they’ll return four runners with state experience in Julie Aster, Medeline Chavez, Cassie Parker and Leah Guengerich.

“I think if we trained really hard, we could win district, but that depends on how well everybody trains,” Guengerich said.

“For me, I’m a senior. I want to see it happen. I think that this year, since we have so many open spots, people will feel more able to step up. They won’t feel like, ‘I can never pass her.’ There’s a lot less trepidation behind it.”

For Montoya, he’s just trying to get his team to take things one day at a time and keep in mind the daily discipline required of the sport.

“If you look at a schedule, and on Thursday or Friday you’re dreading it, you’ve already defeated yourself,” he said.

After all, the cross country season really boils down to one day in November, and not looking too far ahead to that day might prove important. “Everything comes down to one meet for us. That’s where everything happens,” Montoya said. “District.”

The Socorro cross country team will start their season on Friday in Albuquerque at the UNM Meet. The Socorro Stampede will be held on Saturday, Sept. 22 here in Socorro.