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Many cross country runners also compete for Penn track in the winter and spring, making their seasons year-round.

Credit: Chase Sutton

It’s not a sport, it's a lifestyle.

For Penn track’s distance runners, the old sports adage of “there is no offseason” could not ring more true, as their commitment to the program lasts nearly the entire school year. For these athletes, the season starts in the fall with cross country, continues into the winter season with indoor track, and finally ends in the spring with outdoor track.

“It makes it more of a lifestyle,” senior Will Daly said. “A lot of other sports get one semester where they are more of a student than an athlete.”

“One season builds on the next. It's really a year-round commitment in trying to be the best you can be and develop yourself,” coach Steve Dolan said. “A lot of the success we are having this fall in cross country is directly related to the success and development we had on the track last spring.”

With the seasons stacked nearly back-to-back, the team gets little time between competitive seasons.

“Cross country goes until right before Thanksgiving, so some years we will have between Thanksgiving and winter break when we won’t race but will continue to practice and get some time off around finals,” junior Ryan Renken said.  “Once we get back from winter break, which is a week earlier than most students for our training camp, then pretty much for all of spring semester we're racing. [We race] indoors until the end of February, then a week interim period, and then we start outdoors.”

Even over the summer, a lot of work is required to make sure the team doesn't fall behind heading into the cross country season.

“The summer is seen as a training block where we get a program for different training that progresses throughout the summer,” Renken said.

“Cross country is a little bit harder because you start in the summer,” senior Andrew Hally said. “So your training for cross country is completely indicated by the work you put in over the summer when you are alone.”

Despite the combined nature of the two sports, the team sees an important distinction between track and cross country.  

“On the surface they may seem pretty similar, but schedule-wise, cross country races every two weeks and track is a bit more frequent,” Hally said. “Splitting it up makes it feel like two separate sports.”

“[In] cross country you're running 8k or 10k, so the workouts and running distances tend to be a little bit higher,” Daly said. “Track is nice because even though everyone is still training together, you start to get into your more individualized distances.”

While other athletes have time during their offseason to participate in other extracurricular activities or take classes that they wouldn’t be able to take in season, the cross country team's commitment to competing year-round often interferes with these opportunities.

“When you commit to being a cross country runner, you give up the chances that other student-athletes have like studying abroad,” Renken said. “You lose the opportunity to join certain clubs, or take certain trips and visit friends. When we're competing almost every weekend, you lose some opportunities.”

While the time commitment might occasionally be a burden, the team recognizes that it also fosters a sense of teamwork and community that is far stronger than other extracurricular groups.

“It's kind of unique when you have this many people who put so much time and effort into one extracurricular, so you find that it creates an environment in which everyone can strive and trust one another and use one another to improve,” Renken said.

“I think we have a very close knit team. We are with each other basically every day when we’re on campus,” Daly said. “I think it makes our entire team closer, including track and field, men and women. I feel like we have the closest men’s and women’s teams on campus as a result.”

In short, the runners gladly sacrifice other opportunities to maintain this strong connection as a group.

“If you were to ask anyone if they would rather have one season and an offseason or go year-round, I think most people on this team would say year-round,” senior Colin Daly said.

Renken echoed Daly's sentiment.

“If I had to do it over again, I’d do it the same way.”

With the cross country season now entering full swing, this team is just getting its year started.

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