Cross country faces a unique challenge amid the COVID-19 pandemic that could force athletes to choose between competing in the cross country season and competing in the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons.
On Aug. 21, the NCAA announced that it would work to move fall championships to the spring. A month later, it officially postponed the 2020 cross country season to January 2021, coinciding with the indoor track and field season, which is typically held December through March. We won’t fully know the ramifications of this decision until the start of the season gets closer, but with two seasons of running happening at the same time, it’s unlikely athletes will be able to compete in both.
Cal head cross country coach Bobby Lockhart, who is also an assistant coach for track and field, has been grappling with the uncertain state of affairs created by the pandemic since the spring 2020 track and field season was cut short. He’s no stranger to having to adapt to changing circumstances.
“There’s so much unknown. Once we hear what’s going to happen, then we can make decisions,” Lockhart said.
The idea that some runners might have to choose between competing in the longer-distance cross country races and competing in shorter track events creates many novel challenges that Cal cross country will have to take into consideration when planning for its modified season.
“If the seasons are running alongside each other, the question is, is it possible to maybe have a track meet and then go and do an indoor track race?” Lockhart said. “We’re not going to double up and do what’s bad athletically for any athlete. We just have to wait until we know what’s going to happen with indoors.”
Competitions for indoor track and field create another hurdle in the way of a smooth year of running. Mostly due to weather, California doesn’t have many indoor track and field venues, meaning the Bears would have to travel to compete.
When it comes down to it, if athletes are given the choice to compete in either cross country or track, they would most likely choose whichever one they specialize more in. This would affect many things relating to team dynamics, including roster size.
“There are a couple athletes on the cross country team who would probably rather run track,” Lockhart said. “They’re more track-specific athletes and would maybe run shorter distances instead.”
But for Lockhart, the most important thing to take into consideration is what’s best for his runners. On top of postponements and planning for the indoor season, he has to make decisions surrounding the bad air quality in the Bay Area caused by fires. If the air quality index reaches unhealthy levels, Lockhart advises the Bears to take a day off from running to preserve their lungs.
As far as training for the postponed season goes, the team has been meeting in small groups for socially distanced practices when the air allows for it. Most of the team is living in the Bay Area, making planning for in-person practices much easier. Athletes train together in small cohorts, and Lockhart holds practices for the freshmen, who had their senior high school season cut short. The team holds occasional Zoom calls but mostly communicates via text to check in with one another and stay updated on practices.
There are so many different factors that could affect Cal cross country’s postponed season, but Lockhart is focusing on the present and the information he has now. The possibility that cross country and track and field could happen at the same time isn’t something he’s currently concerned with.
“I’m not sure what that landscape will look like,” he said. “It’s constantly evolving, so I’m just staying on the sidelines waiting to hear back.”
Mia Horne covers track and field. Contact her at [email protected].