UCLA’s terrain isn’t easy on the legs. Just as a hill comes to an end, a flight of stairs approaches.
But the UCLA cross country team sees the hills as more of a benefit than a challenge when training. As the season-opening Nevada Chase Race on Aug. 30 draws closer, the Bruins think frequently running on those hills will pay off.
“UCLA’s campus is definitely very hilly and it was an adjustment getting used to all the hills around UCLA and Westwood,” said rising redshirt junior Kelsey Smith. “(But) I think that it only helps our training for cross country, and I think that it makes us a lot stronger having to deal with all of the hills.”
While the hills help with training, the team’s trip to Mammoth Mountain helps with the group’s preparation and development of team unity heading into the season.
“We go up to Mammoth for about two and a half weeks just to do some offseason training. For us, that time (is for) team-building and bonding and for the coaches to figure out where (are) some really good points that we developed over the summer and where (are) our weak points that we (have) to work on,” said rising senior Dustin Fay.
Assistant coach Forest Braden said that the team is in good shape to begin the season, but the first races are more about building momentum before the tougher meets later in the season.
“We are using (the first races) as a learning experience,” Braden said. “It’s a good experience to get in there, compete and put the jersey on for the first time in the season.”
For the Bruins, the races at the beginning of the season are all building toward their ultimate objective of competing in the postseason.
“We are looking at the big races at the end of the year – the Pac-12 championship, the regional championship and the national championships – and really trying to put emphasis on those big races and make sure that we are physically ready, but also mentally ready to perform our best when it really matters,” Braden said.
To reach that team goal, the athletes are taking the time to create their own smaller objectives.
“I just want to be able to run the best for my team,” Smith said. “As for expectations for the team, I think that our biggest goal is to make it to nationals this year. But every race is different so we just have to take it one step at a time and one race at a time.”