Benefield: Scrambled schedules, smoky air have cross country teams in limbo
‘The hay is in the barn.” Meaning, the real work has been done.
Not one but two area cross country coaches used the phrase when I asked about how the poor air quality from the Butte County wildfire is affecting their final crucial days of training heading into the postseason.
They were striking a tone of optimism, suggesting that the miles have been put in, the muscles are ready and that these final days are just for fine-tuning. One coach called it “sharpening the pencil.”
But make no mistake, for the second year in a row, deadly wildfires are throwing cross country runners for a loop. This season, it happened on the eve of the postseason and has already canceled two end-of-season meets.
And make no mistake about this point, either: We have among us teams and individual runners with a shot at being state champions. So these final workouts of tweaks and preparation are vitally important.
But schools across Sonoma County have been closed since Thursday. Practice is catch as catch can in area gyms and indoor spaces, if it’s happening at all.
This is not how the season was supposed to end.
“It’s very disruptive to our training plan,” said Maria Carrillo coach Greg Fogg.
Carrillo has a boys team that could very well win a state Division 3 championship and a girls squad that could podium in Fresno in two weeks.
“But I’m trying to make sure that everyone is trying to spin this around for the positive,” he said.
Fogg has perspective on this one. He lost his Rincon Valley home 13 months ago in the Tubbs fire.
“Thinking of all the families that are going through just now what we have been going through for a year?” he said. “We love our sport a ton, but the picture is bigger than that.”
So coaches around here are doing their best to strike a balance — between keeping their kids focused on the final steps of preparation and having a dose of humility and perspective that if practice is changed or a race is canceled, there are bigger reasons behind the why.
The North Bay League championship meets originally for over the weekend, and then moved to Tuesday, were canceled late Monday. The North Coast Section championship — the qualifier for the Nov. 24 CIF Championship in Fresno — remains as originally scheduled for Saturday in Hayward.
With the smoke lingering, nothing feels certain. School has been canceled for days. Runners don’t know when (and perhaps if) that race will be run. It’s a tough way to prepare, even if the hay is indeed already in the barn.
“Of course, how can they not be disappointed? But it’s more along the lines of they are wondering what’s next,” Healdsburg’s coach Kate Guthrie said. “It’s almost like we are in a state of confusion. There is no direct course.”
But there are signals.
On Tuesday, CIF executive director Roger L. Blake issued a statement saying the state cross country championship would be run as planned on Nov. 24. But what does it mean if North Coast Section athletes (and others — we are not the only section struggling with this) can’t race this weekend to determine who qualifies for state?