It requires only a brief glance at the NCAA results to realize that many of the nation’s top cross country teams are programs that have made a deliberate decision to focus their resources on distance running. At the Women’s NCAA I Cross Country Championships last weekend, Colorado and New Mexico finished 1st and 2nd - both team are distance-oriented programs. On the men’s side, Northern Arizona University, Portland and Colorado finished 1st, 3rd and 4th respectively further confirming this trend. Look no further than upstarts Furman University and Bradley University as impactful programs on the national level.
To learn more about the advantages of running for such a program I spoke with current Boston Athletic Association (BAA) High Performance Coach Ricardo Santos.
An athlete at Iona College, Santos was an NCAA All-American. As a coach, his athletes accrued a long list of accomplishments, including NCAA Cross Country, Indoor, and Outdoor Track Championships, All-American honors, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships, and eight top-10 NCAA team finishes in cross-country.
Santos stated, “Throughout the college recruiting process, numerous high-level distance runners are faced with the decision between looking at schools with complete track and field programs versus those that focus on cross country and distance events on the track. Having been at a distance-only school as a student-athlete and coach, I may be a little biased, but there are many advantages to competing for a distance-oriented program.
I asked Coach Santos what factor he considered to be the most positively impactful. In his opinion, he thought that “The most important factor is individualism. Coaches are able to focus more on individuals as the number of overall athletes on the team tends to be smaller than those of a full program. He further stated that “This can allow for a more natural progression in an athlete’s career and not rush them into higher mileage or inappropriate intensity level of training before the athlete is ready, thus, reducing the risk of injury or burn- out.
Coach Santos went on to say, “Another key factor is not over racing. Many of the full programs during the track seasons are looking to win meets - this may mean that an athlete will have to compete in multiple races to score points for the team. Potentially, this can lead to over racing. With distance only programs there is a less chance of over racing as most meets will focus on individual performance as opposed to team finish. The primary focus is on the post-season and individual achievement on the track.
Santos concluded, “In the end, it really depends on what the prospective student-athlete is looking for. There are many factors to consider when deciding between a distance only program and a more tradition full track and field program. However, in my opinion, the distance only program serves as a great benefit for someone looking to develop at a more natural progression.