The cold, howling winds of late November are the greatest fear of any cross country runner.
Anything could go wrong, from a loose shoelace to a leg cramp, and even a pileup as a result of someone falling. No matter how nervous they are, they must keep their cool. Months of training have led up to this race, and the runners weren’t about to let the nerves get in their way.
The line suddenly gets quiet. A man in a bright yellow jacket with a pistol in his hands walks up to a cone in the field about 50 feet away.
He raises the gun…
For those who are unfamiliar with the sport, cross country is a sport where runners run an entire 5k (3.1miles) race and teams earn points from placement. The sport is not for the weak-willed, as a 5k by itself is daunting to most people.
The Rutherford cross country team started training in late June, as soon as the 2018-2019 school year ended. Every morning at 8:30, from Monday to Saturday, the team showed up to run and prepare themselves for the coming competition. Mondays started out easy, with low mileage to kick off the week. Each day would get progressively harder until Saturday, which was the notorious “long-run” day. The hardest runs yielded the best results. Sundays were rest days and Monday would kick the week off once again. It is a training schedule crafted by the coaches that have been perfected over the years that past runners from past teams had done.
Although it seems straightforward, the season has not been without hardship. In a county group meet against Glen Rock, Rutherford not only suffered a humiliating loss, but a loss of their fastest runner, Tristan Ramac. Even though the team had experienced heavy losses, the season was far from over. Tristan left some big shoes to fill and it was up to the entire boys’ team to step it up and pull through to the end.
“Anytime you lose your best runner, you are definitely affected,” said Coach Van Dyk. “This team always goes with the mentality of the next man in, so we are very lucky that we have a number of reliable underclassmen and some new guys that stepped right in. We have some great senior leadership as well and they really coached these guys up and got them ready. It took a little bit of an adjustment, but these guys were ready.”
The previous week, the team triumphed and, against all odds, qualified for the state group meet at Greystone Park. The Rutherford boys were ranked sixth overall and the girls were ranked fifth overall. The top five teams qualify for the state group meet. The girls’ team qualified with no problem, placing fourth overall. The boys also qualified, placing fifth overall. It would not have been possible without Vraj Parikh, who pulled ahead of three runners from Verona in the last 100 meters of the race. To put things into perspective, Verona placed sixth that day. When asked about his performance, he said:
“It was a great meet, everyone did well. Even in the cold we were ‘super hot fire’. If it wasn’t for all the previous XC members that came to cheer us on.”
The Rutherford team’s next meet is in Holmdel, a course that twists and turns, drops and rises, and is notorious for a portion called “the bowl,” which takes up about one-third of the course and is a large loop with an extremely steep incline at the end. Head coach Justin Van Dyk, who is a fellow high school runner and is no stranger to the sport, had this to say about the course and the upcoming meet:
“Holmdel is THE course of New Jersey, they have been running the state meet there forever; It’s also one of the more famous courses on the east coast. Holmdel is your measuring stick. Every runner in new jersey runs Holmdel, so you can talk about your times, you can talk about titles, but the measuring stick is Holmdel. What you ran in Holmdel is the measure, whether you’re comparing yourself to a current runner, or to a runner from before, and these guys are ready. We have been working hard. We were at this course on the 12th and ran the shore coaches meet, and this is a course built for us. The course is covered in hills and it better reflects the work that the runners do here. We are lucky in rutherford to have a number of hills and some tough terrain that they can use to be ready, so we are gonna be ready to go.”