Cross Country: Survival of the (Mentally) Fittest

hoto courtesy of Ross Mortensen

hoto courtesy of Ross Mortensen

For the Average Joe, racing through Choate’s forest for miles on end is a daunting task. However, for cross country runners, running that trail is second nature.

Cross country is a unique sport because it demands both physical and mental stamina. As the boys’ captain, Joe Berafatti ’17, put it, “Cross country is kind of two sided. First, you need the day-to-day dedication to train six days a week. The other side of it is that is you need the mental strength to push through a race. Even when you’re really tired and hurting, you have to drive for the finish line with a mile left.”

The Girls’ Cross Country coach is Mr. James Davidson, known as JD to his athletes and students. A teacher in spiritual life and meditation, JD makes it a priority to keep his runners in tip-top mental shape as well as physical. In regards to the role mentality plays in cross country, he said, “It’s at least forty percent of the challenge, because once you improve your endurance, you begin to believe in yourself.”

JD went on to say that, for a runner, “the worst mindset is when you become preoccupied with where you are in the race. You begin this internal dialogue where you are pretty much convinced that you are not as fast as you thought you were, or you’re not as fast as the other people in the race. That feeds into your awareness of feeling winded or of a minor ache. This makes it difficult to compete at any level.”

Throughout the season, JD and the Boys’ Cross Country coach, Mr. Ned Gallagher, make a point to teach their runners about mental awareness and relaxation. Berafatti said, “Sometimes on Fridays, before a Saturday race, we do ‘Neditation.’ We all go into the locker room and visualize ourselves running the race. That helps build confidence. When race day comes, you know what you have to do to perform to the best of your ability.”

Along with that, JD commented on how he prepares his runners, saying, “After relaxation, we do some breathing exercises that are linked to visualization. Also, before a meet, we always try to gather up and take a couple deep breaths.” One of his runners, Claire Gussler ’19, said, “The exercises help calm your mind and get you mentally prepared for the meet.”

Haley Williams ’18, who has been participating in individual sports since she was little, said, “Mentality is basically everything [when you are competing independently].” For cross country, in particular, she said that “being able to keep running is completely in your head. If you tell yourself that you’re strong and you’re able to continue, then you can run as far as you want.”

Runner Joseph Coyne ’19 said, “Everyone is going to feel pain at some point in the race.” Gussler added, “It’s about who can sustain that pain and continue to run faster. Mental state is everything because the minute you give up, you can’t run anymore. It’s all about your motivation.”

One Comment

  1. Runners would be so lucky to be trained by Mr. James Davidson. He uses highly effective and specialized training techniques, such as visualization, delayed gratification and validation.

    Everything starts with the proper mindset. Without believing ourselves capable of doing a task, we would not even attempt the said task, no matter how simple.

    This is such a short article, but it contains many worthy concepts, such as the power of resilience, the way how your mind acts like a filter (you see what you focus your mind on) and last but not least, the importance of cultivating a winner’s mindset.

    Thank you for sharing it with us.

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