Setting the Pace: Cross Country Team Runs Towards Goals

Among the dozens of high school cross country runners throughout the county who are participating in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League (SCCAL) this season, the competition is very strong — including one nationally-ranked female athlete. Star runners don’t daunt members of the Mount Madonna School (MMS) cross country team however, these student athletes are focused on achieving personal goals.
‘We’re not worried about the runners from other schools,’ explained MMS cross country coach Stephen Harrington. ‘We understand that a lot of the teams we compete against have top-notch runners. What I try to emphasize with our team is that each athlete needs to personally improve his or her own times and physical fitness. We are competing against ourselves.’
This emphasis, said Harrington, is working:
‘Over the course of this season, our runners are seeing their times improve by as much as a minute or two — and that’s huge.’
The MMS team trains together after school four days a week, usually running the trails around campus with at least one run a week at nearby Mount Madonna County Park. Training sessions include stretching, warm-ups, 30 minutes of running, a cool down followed by more stretching and some weight room conditioning. Nutrition, fitness and overall health are frequently touched on.
‘Running is so accessible,’ said Harrington. ‘All you need is a pair of shoes and you can do it. I hope each member of the team can see the value; how at the end of a school day they can show up all wound up and worried about various things, then they go for a run and suddenly they’re mellower and happier. Exercise can improve their health and self-esteem. It’s such a positive de-stressor.’
Sophomore Carl Ward agreed:
‘The great feeling I get after a big run is a cool part of cross country,’ he said. ‘It definitely makes it worth the ‘awful’ feeling of actually running. The ability to pace myself is a skill I’ve gained through this season, and I’ve used it for doing homework and spacing my time evenly.’
Harrington said another plus is that the team members have become more comfortable in the meet situations
‘It’s kind of like when you walk into the ring and you’re the underdog or you show up for the race and you know you’re going to get hammered,’ commented Harrington. ‘Put aside first place and last place, in reality it’s a lot more than that. Each meet they’ve all put themselves out there and they’ve all finished the race.’
Camaraderie is strong among the teammates; they encourage each other when someone’s having an off day and during the league competitions.
‘What I really enjoy about cross country is being a part of the team and cheering everyone on,’ shared junior Caroline Smith. ‘Even though we may not be the team that comes in first place, we still run and we still compete and I think that translates into my life when it comes to doing things for the experience and not because of a prize at the end.’
Senior Ethan Harrington, a cross country veteran, coach Harrington’s son and captain of the current boys’ squad, reflected on the team’s experiences this season:
‘Over the last four years of Mount Madonna cross country, the team size has varied from the bare minimum to the current team which is one of, if not the largest, team the school has fielded. That shows how dedicated and strong our team is, both mentally and physically. Coaches of other school teams have commented on, to both me and my dad, that the Mount Madonna team, both boys and girls, is closer than most in placings, which is unusual for the sport. Our team has fun together and pushes each other to go harder than we would individually.  This has been a big emphasis for our team. As was said during our recent meet, ‘we’ll do it together, or not, that could always happen too’.’
The 2015 Mount Madonna cross country team members are: Carl Ward and Elias Moreno, tenth grade; Abigail Gray, Caroline Smith, Cat Ching, and Isaac Harris, eleventh grade; and Alex Marshall, Ethan Harrington and Max Medvedev, grade twelve.
The SCCAL championship meet is planned for Thursday, November 5 at 4:00pm at Pinto Lake County Park in Watsonville. Come on out and cheer on the Hawks!
‘Running cross country is such a micro life lesson,’ observed coach Harrington. ‘To get somewhere in life you have to be focused and motivated; you have to put in the work. When you’re running the long trail, it’s the same thing, and once you make it to the top of the hill, it’s awesome!’


Photos by Carla Gomez, Christine Smith and Karen Harrington
Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Director of Marketing & Communications,
Nestled among the redwoods on 355 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a community of learners dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.