Runners work at night to beat heat
It is a sweltering August evening out in front of Tonganoxie High School as a group of students steadily grows in size minutes before the start of a cross country workout.
As the runners hop out of their cars and head toward their teammates, the clocks on the dashboards are quickly approaching 8 p.m., but the temperature is holding steady at 100 degrees.
Temperatures in Tonganoxie and the rest of the metro area reached as high as 110 — not counting the heat index — on Aug. 2 and with little to no relief from the day’s staggering outdoor steam room conditions in sight, Chieftains cross country coach Phil Williams overhears senior Patrick Rachford talking about his mid-afternoon runs in the midst of the heat wave.
“That’s nuts,” Williams says in disbelief.
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The coach organized Tuesday and Thursday night workouts for the team for five weeks this summer to get his runners training and acclimated to the hot weather before official practices start next week.
Williams said the ideal time for team runs would have been early in the morning if they wanted to beat the heat, but he thought more runners would come out for workouts in the evening. An average of 32 runners showed up for the 10 summer evening sessions, with running conditions more tolerable than the oven-like elements Rachford battled on his afternoon journeys.
“It’s cooler in the evening than in the middle of the afternoon, but it's still pretty warm,” Williams said of the workouts, which typically included 11 or so boys and about 21 girls. “I think the kids actually enjoy the socialization of our summer workouts.”
It has been consistently hot this summer, but Rachford said the cross country team appreciated doing its organized workouts later in the day, starting at 8 p.m.
“I’ve been running in the heat, mid-day, then been coming to these things,” Rachford said. “Running at night, there’s definitely a big difference.”
On a day like Aug. 2, senior Taylor Clark said, even the slightest drop in temperature is appreciated.
“It makes it a lot easier,” she said of the evening workouts. “It was 110 this afternoon and now it might be 98 and that actually helps a lot when you’re running.”
Clark said the number of cross country runners at workouts was small compared to what they will soon have at practices. She thought the heat kept some runners at home.
Though Clark said the hardest part of running on a blistering day was getting out of the air conditioning and into the heat, Williams said those Chieftains who attended the workouts didn’t have trouble staying motivated.
“They are not as difficult as the regular season,” the coach said of the evening runs, “so motivation is usually not a big problem. We had no complaints about the heat.”
The runners understood that training during the hottest part of the year was best for the team.
“We could get a lot more done in cool weather,” Williams said, “but because our first couple of meets are often hot, it is important they get used to the heat.”
The summer workouts, the coach added, were most beneficial for the younger, less experienced runners. But Rachford agreed that all the summer sweating would help the team’s veterans, too, in at least one fashion.
“When school starts,” he said, “it’s gonna be a little bit colder, and if you ran during the heat, it will feel a lot more like a cooler climate.”
Plus, the overall summer work put in by each runner can have a cumulative affect in the fall. Clark said she thought the miles the THS boys logged last summer led them to their eventual state berth at Wamego.
“Our boys did a phenomenal job last year, and I really think that’s because we have these dedicated seniors that were running two times a day or doing the summer workouts,” she said.
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It’s now 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 2 and Tonganoxie’s summer workout warriors have completed their warm-up run of just more than a mile from THS to Tonganoxie Middle School.
They refresh themselves with water out of a cooler in the back of Williams’ truck and take it easy for a few minutes before stretching.
The sun is barely visible above the tree line westward and it is just beginning to get darker as the runners begin the final part of their workout on the Chieftains’ cross country course.
Still, a temperature reading on the dashboard of a car in the parking lot reads: 100.
As Clark said before the workout began, there won’t be much the runners can do about the sweat as it pours from their heads and gets in their eyes.
“It’s gonna burn,” she said, “but you’ve got three more miles.”