Before most students wake up for their school day, the cross-country teams are running. In heat and cold, in dust and rain, they run. They begin their training at 6 a.m. almost every day of the week. Depending on the day, the teams might have a long run, 1,000-meter repeats, a hill workout or a variation of all these.
The teams also have a core workout either after the run or in the afternoon on their own time to help with their core strength. Each grueling, early morning workout prepares the team to compete in weekend meets. The teams have participated in three meets so far this season. During their last meet in Charlotte, three lady runners set personal records—Hannah Peterson, Alyssa Whaley and Mary Jo Lohmeyer. In addition, Hannah Peterson and Haley Brammer were able to finish their 5,000 meter runs under the 21-minute mark.
Aryn Akerberg, a junior premed major, said the women’s team has had to adjust this season after losing three of their top runners from last season. “I think that everyone has stepped up to the plate in their absence and taken on the responsibility,” she said.
Denise Mendoza, a sophomore on the women’s team, began training with the team during the spring semester of her freshman year. “It’s been an exciting adventure,” Mendoza said. “Running is a huge mental sport, but this team has such a positive attitude and is always encouraging each other.”
Head coach Landon Bright has coached both cross-country teams since 2013 and has led the men’s team to three NCCAA DII National Championships. He was also voted National Coach of the Year by the NCCAA three times. His wife, Katie Bright, serves as the assistant coach of the teams.
Mendoza said Bright knows how to both encourage and motivate his teams. “[He] is a phenomenal coach in so many ways,” she said. “For me personally, he has made this first year on the team so much less stressful. I have learned so much about running thanks to him.”
Caleb Davis, a senior runner who also participates in the ROTC program, said he appreciates how understanding Coach Bright is. “Since I joined ROTC last year, he has been willing to work with me so that I can still run on the cross-country team,” he said. “Since I have [personal training] and ROTC obligations, I will typically run with the guys on Thursday but every other day will typically run at night.”
This season, Coach Bright’s goal is to push the men to run as fast as they can over 1,000 meters and the women to run as fast as possible over 5,000 meters. He wants each runner to beat their own personal records.
“The emphasis is just consistency and being able to stay mentally engaged throughout the whole season,” Bright said. Bright is thankful that the teams have seen fewer injuries this season. “We basically have all women training at full speed, and we have about 10 out of 11 guys,” Bright said. “As of right now, no one has any major injuries.”
Being on the cross-country team has taught Akerberg many things. “I have learned that I can literally do nothing on this earth without the power of God—especially running,” she said. “Patience and perseverance are the key to success. Good things do not just happen overnight, and neither does good running.” Davis said that running cross-country has helped him better appreciate this semester’s chapel theme of Run the Race.
“I’ve learned how to persevere, just like in Hebrews 12 when the author is talking about the Christian race,” he said. “When we run, it’s not so that we can say we won something but so we can say we ran as hard as we could for the glory of God.” The teams’ next event is on Saturday, Oct. 26, when they will host their only home tournament of the season, the annual Bruins Invitational Tournament.
The women’s teams will compete at 9 a.m., and the men’s teams will compete at 10 a.m. If they qualify, the teams will then compete in the NCCAA DII National Championships in Point Lookout, Missouri. An official team consists of seven athletes, so Coach Bright will choose the top seven runners from both the men’s and women’s teams to compete in the National Championships.
Bright said he tries to coach cross-country in a way that will bring God glory.
“You never know how God will use [running] in the future,” Bright said. “If God’s given you a passion or a talent, we try to maximize that.”