Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Running Book Worth Reading -

High School Cross-Country Breakout: Memiors of State Champions , May 1, 2006

Daniel Hurley (Chesapeake, VA.) - See all my reviews

This is a true account of cross-country seasons at Salem HS written by two gifted students on the team. This is a participant's view of a team that over the course of two years develops from a very competitive region team to a team that wins State. The book is well detailed on cross-country in the sense that the student authors appropriately make the point that no matter how good the top runners are on a team, and they have several excellent runners, winning a championship depends on where your 5th man finishes.

The other nice emphasis, as the authors nicely describe, is how each individual develops in training and in actual races. You get a nice feel for cross-country racing as the authors give a personal perspective on what it is like to prepare for race day, how they determine their race plans (preference for pace or going out with the leaders), the effect of the course terrain and the weather and what it is like on those days that you feel great and those when you know you don't have it.

The story is fascinating reading not only how the four stars improve and compete among themselves but they authors also write a healthy description of the competition for the 5th, 6th and final varsity spot. And as the authors well describe, the 6th and 7th man do make a difference particularly when the 5th man falters. The book spends most of its time on cross-country with short references to track but the authors note that all three of the top runners run the two mile close to 10 flat with their top runner breaking out with a 9:40 prior to the second CC season.

I would have liked to have known more about their post CC workouts as the school seemed to produce some very good talent with depth. The team's top runners were very talented and placed very high in their region and state yet they were beat by some outstanding individuals at the big meets. Thus they were in a very competitive state division.

Besides the dedication of the athletes, the coaching is impressive along with how the runners adapted to the workouts. For example, in a quality distance run, the runners occasionally wear heart monitors in order to maintain a specific effort for a specific period of time. In another technical note, their advanced coach uses a GPS to determine where the true mile splits on race courses are to help his team with their pace during races.

The school also features an outstanding booster club that is pretty unique for HS distance runners. The book also captures the difficulties of success, such as over training injuries or too much success or praise's effect on a young runner. And, a nicety of the book is capturing the coach's efforts to tailor a workout appropriate for particular athletes as some require more recovery than others.

And there is suspense, a great finish marred by technical officiating failures that leave you guessing what will happen and what is fascinating is that it is a true story. A satellite story is the development of the girls' team that features two outstanding athletes and the girls eventually rival the boys in regards to success at the State meet.

There is also the cross-country/track coach's greatest fear, exemplified in Runner's World editorials by Marc Bloom, that soccer may steal your best runner as it almost does in this story. The book is ideal for young high school aspiring runners and in fact it could be used as a HS coach's recruitment. This book is an excellent view of cross-country from the trenches or from the ground.

Here are some exclusives, snippets of information for people with blogs about running or cross country:

The story is the boy's account of a true story. A new coach takes over a lagging XC team. They manage to finish third in the state meet, only to have their entire appearance at the state meet erased in a courtroom. The book tells the story of the next year.

During the lead-up to the next year's state meet, the team is beaten by their rivals. With their confidence shaken, assistant-coach Rich Wilson delivers my favorite quote from the book, "If you had taken first today, you woulda come back home and yawned and said, 'Yep, I guess we're gonna win state.' But in the back of your mind woulda been a little bit of doubt and you'd be wonderin' if you just might lose. "Well, you saw today the only way that's gonna happen. Could any of you have run any worse? . . . Now we're gonna see 'em again at state, and they're gonna think they've already won. Pffft. They're done. But we're gonna say, 'You may 'a' beaten us last week, when we all ran with our tails between our legs. But we got a 55-gallon barrel o' butt-whuppin', and you can just get in line.'"

The authors are cousins who were sophomores on the team that finished 3rd in the state meet. They were juniors during the season written about in this book.

They co-wrote the book during the summer between their junior and senior years. An epilogue mentions their return to the state meet during their senior year, when both the boys and girls XC teams were state champs. Additional Shivers cousins were on the girls team.

The book came about because the boys entered a book proposal in the Fresh Writers Book contest. This Ohio program provides summer internships between the junior and senior year to encourage high school students to pursue literary careers.

This is the 6th book produced by students in the program. While previous books have done well in Ohio, this is the first book to break out and be selling well across the country. The book was the #5 track and field book at Amazon during July 6-7, 2006.

The book is dedicated to their grandmother, who passed away the week before the state meet in their senior year.

Paul is the faster runner, the 2nd runner on the XC team. Joe spent the season as either the 7th man or the alternate.

Paul Shivers will be a red-shirt freshman at Ohio State in the fall. Joe Shivers was named to the USA Today top 50 seniors list and will be attending Harvard.

The book gives a look into the thoughts and feelings of the adolescent athlete.

One adult customer mentioned that the book brought back a flood of memories from her high school XC seasons. She bought additional copies of the books for her running friends.

The book is winning acclaim from XC coaches, saying it would be a good recruiting tool for their teams. For any coaches teaching short fiction or Reading classes, the book would make an excellent selection for classroom reading. We were careful to keep the book curriculum safe.

At 180 pages, the book is priced at $5.95 - affordable for the high school XC runner. If the coach is interested in buying a book for the whole team, the publisher offers a 40% discount on purchases of 6 or more copies. School purchases orders are gladly accepted.


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