SUBMITTED PHOTO<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Members of the Kingsland cross-country team recently held a training weekend in Forestville. The group also worked with a conservation corps group to clean up hundreds of tires that were dumped in ravines on the new land acquired by the park. In the front row are Audrey Farlinger and Jocelyn Voeltz. In the middle row are Melinda Woods, Erica Earley, Jamie Thompson, Clayton Friemuth, Dane Gillespie, and Filip Swanson. In back are James Hayes-Hall, Tomm Mettler, Richard Swanson, Ryan Swanson, Tyler Kaster and Logan O’Connell.
SUBMITTED PHOTO

Members of the Kingsland cross-country team recently held a training weekend in Forestville. The group also worked with a conservation corps group to clean up hundreds of tires that were dumped in ravines on the new land acquired by the park. In the front row are Audrey Farlinger and Jocelyn Voeltz. In the middle row are Melinda Woods, Erica Earley, Jamie Thompson, Clayton Friemuth, Dane Gillespie, and Filip Swanson. In back are James Hayes-Hall, Tomm Mettler, Richard Swanson, Ryan Swanson, Tyler Kaster and Logan O’Connell.
"The kids are more than just athletes - they're citizens in the making," said Kingsland cross-country co-coach Amber Uhlenhake, who, along with Mollie McMahon, keep the Kingsland running team in action and aware of their community as a new season starts with the school year.

According to Uhlenhake, the team of 17 students - 12 boys and five girls mostly from grades seventh through 10th - recently went on a camping and training trip to Forestville, where part of their stay and workout involved doing community service work.

"While at Forestville, we learned some mechanics of hill running, got to know the cross-country families better, and did team bonding around the campfire. The next day, we worked with the conservation corps group there to help clean up some new land at the state park - basically, there were hundreds of tires dumped in the ravines, and we helped to dig them out."

They formed an assembly line of 14 athletes, both coaches and 5 conservation volunteers, passing tires up and piling them according to size, cleaning "a great portion of the ravine," coming out muddy and tired.

"It was a great way to get the kids to work together, get in an alternative lifting workout for the day, and to learn how to give back to the community that gives so much to them and their team. The parents were most supportive of our camping trip, and we enjoyed the evening meal with them there - this would not be possible without their or the larger community's support. One thing the athletes looked most forward to was this camping trip, and the service work we did for our local community was an added bonus."

The team officially formed and began practicing for the 2012 fall cross-country season on Aug. 13. Students rise and shine to be at the track at 8 a.m. "to beat the summer heat, though we've been lucky so far," and will begin after-school practice once school starts on Sept. 4. Their first meet was scheduled for Monday, Aug. 27, and then another at Stewartville is scheduled Thursday.

"A lot of these kids have never been out for cross country before, so it's not only the first meet of the season, it's the first of their lives, and the challenge is in the conditioning. Without summer miles or real talent, it's hard to stay in contention, but a great majority of the runners put in the summer miles and are ready to transition into the speed phase, which we'll be working on and building up throughout this season.

"Not many people can go out and run a mile, much less race three, and these athletes are putting in long runs, interval work, and tempo pieces other sports wouldn't dare survive on."

The coach cited that "gender and age don't matter because they (students) are all in the same workouts."

"They all experience that same feel-good burn after a challenging practice, they all run the same race course. It's an individual and group sport all rolled into one. They learn that running is a lifelong sport, that it builds season to season ... you can see it across the levels. It's hard to keep moving your body over long distances, so they are learning mental toughness as well, which is really a key piece to the sport.

"The race could really be over before you step out of the starting box if you aren't in the right frame of mind. And once we start on hill workouts, they'll soon realize the weakness in the core and the arms, which we definitely work on correcting every day. It's so much beyond the physical, but even in workouts, kids are lasting five minutes more on an easy run than the previous week, and they just build that endurance."

Uhlenhake and McMahon are co-coaching the cross-country team following longtime coach Brian Hoff's decision to retire.

"Mollie and I are a great pair - we are so compatible on our workout ideas and general distance running backgrounds. She's got a good background in weightlifting, and I've got excellent workout and training pieces we use. Together, we always pull things together and get things accomplished. We are both fortunate to have each other. Like we always say to each other, 'We're awesome!' And the kids relate really well to us, so it's just an overall good mix."

Uhlenhake continued, "We are fairly laid back, but we get the work done. We do a lot of behind the scenes work the team may not realize, but we want the best for each athlete. We just enjoy having kids come out and giving cross- country a try. They don't have to be the fastest, and we don't expect that on a first try. We adapt the workouts to abilities, and have the long-term goal of a great runner in mind when someone steps into our program.

"We coach track together in the spring, which helps distance runners especially make the transition with their training cycles. We look long term, but sure try to keep it all fun in the short term. We want the best for our athletes, on the course, in the classroom, and out in our community. We love what we do, and I can't help but believe the kids can see that at each practice."

They've been meeting with runners individually and as a team to set goals, and "they have some high expectations of themselves, which we as coaches are thrilled to see."

"I would look for a state qualifier team or individual in the near future, provided the enthusiasm and work ethic stays elevated. Even this first week, and then with this camping trip, the kids are really growing into a family. Cross-country is so unique in how close you get to your teammates, it's lifelong friendships in the making because they are all experiencing the same thing. No one gets more 'game time' or sits on the bench...they are all out there, putting in the same miles and work load, maybe at different paces, but they feel for each other."

Additionally, cross-country participants are lucky to attend meets that are only about an hour or less away which don't last as long as other sports, so they have time to get home and do their homework before bed.

Uhlenhake pointed out that "the Forestville trip was an amazing experience" for the team, allowing them to bond, learn their coaches' work style and expectations and set more goals.

"There were many memorable moments, and the team came back ready to get to work. They formed friendships, and even the quiet few of the bunch really came out of their shells. We accomplished far more than running out there.

"The highlight, which many will never forget, was the service project ... the work was physically hard, but once those assembly lines formed, it went so smoothly. That was the pinnacle of teamwork. We came back covered in mud but satisfied with a job well done and the amount of difference we made."

The coaches plan to consider more service projects if presented with them. "So far, this is the only service project, but as new coaches, we'll look for opportunities should they arise. We are just starting this program, and molding some portions as we go, so there is no telling what may be in store."

Uhlenhake commented, "We have a fantastic cross-country program in the makings, but it's often an overlooked sport that the kids really end up enjoying and being a second family by season's end."

She concluded, "This is an all-around fun team. They know how to stay laid back, but they are willing to put in the work needed to succeed each day at practice. They know how to take directions, get workouts finished, and put the time in, even if at times they would rather just stay in bed and sleep. They're a fun bunch."