It was all greetings and smiles when Culver City High School’s cross country team returned for the new school year – albeit virtually. The Zoom meeting represented the second time the team had seen each other in nearly five months, and while hardly serving as a substitute for in-person interaction, the relief was obvious. The nearly hour and half long information session was marked by a relatively optimistic tone. Coach Steven Heyl announced plans to return to in-person training by October, and competition by January, while much of the discussion revolved around the logistics of what such a return would look like. Heyl was quick to acknowledge the obvious volatility of his plan, however, warning of the situation’s fluidity.
Even with a delayed return, however, it’s unlikely that Culver City cross country will be too deterred in a year full of adjustments. For much of quarantine, the team’s new captains have been busy posting at-home workout plans and updates on the official Culver City Centaurs XC Instagram page. Now at week 21, workouts consist of 4-6 mile runs, short repeats, and plenty of ab exercises. In fact, boys co-captain Ryan Washizaki recently organized a virtual three mile race in which participants were asked to submit their times to a spreadsheet.
The far bigger problem is the question of what will happen once cross country returns. It’s possible that school will remain virtual for the spring. Assuming that students are allowed to return, though, it’s still unlikely that social distancing and masking requirements will be eased, and it’s these two issues that are most vexing.
During the meeting, Heyl floated the possibility of a “pod” system: students would be assigned to groups of ten, and run at staggered times. Runners within pods would also have to remain at least eight feet apart. As for masks, runners would be allowed to keep them off unless directly passing by someone, such as a biker or a pedestrian.
The idea of podding has its flaws, though. For one, it’ll be difficult for students to maintain social distance on the narrow confines of a sidewalk or bike path, especially if they run at different speeds. Masking is also a problem; while recent research has suggested that the use of masks has no significant effect on oxygen intake, it’s a different story with running, where even a little bit of extra air can make a major difference. Mechanical obstruction of the mouth can also encourage the wearer to hyperventilate, or at least feel like they’re hyperventilating – another harmful effect in a sport of mental endurance. And since cross country runners at CCHS primarily run around Culver City, rather than around a track, there’ll be plenty of pedestrians around, which means plenty of situations where masks are required.
Culver City’s cross country team will have to figure out how to manage these issues if they want to continue the season. Like with so many other things in this time of quarantine, they’ll have to adapt.