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Buffs Face Many Unknowns in Upcoming Season

Oct 1, 2020

BOULDER – With the NCAA voting to push the 2020 cross country season to winter of 2021, many questions have arisen for the Colorado Buffaloes cross country and track and field program, few with clear answers that even head coach Mark Wetmore can answer.
The biggest question on the minds of student-athletes, fans and coaches alike is the choice – indoor track or cross country? Or is both the answer?
 "I think the NCAA plans to allow athletes in both sports at once," said Wetmore. "That means an athlete can run a track meet one weekend and a cross country meet the next. And, actually, someone could run multiple races at the NCAA Indoor Championships on Friday and Saturday and then the NCAA Cross Country Championships the following Monday. The NCAA has passed the decision on to the coaches."
For men longer distance runners that focus more on the 5,000 and 10,000 outdoors, the answer would seem simply to stick to the 10k in cross and continue the training into the outdoor season without having to drop to the 5,000 indoors. But for the middle distance athletes like Eduardo Herrera and Rachel McArthur, the challenge grows more. Is it even possible to train for both the 10,000 at the cross championships while also putting in the speed efforts for the mile indoors? On the women's side, is it more feasible to stick to 6k training while simultaneously looking at the indoor 5,000 as another chance to go for an individual title?
While these athletes and coaches are debating and planning out those first three months, others have their minds set on the following three as well. There has never been a cross country season so closely smashed up against the outdoor season, unless you go back in history to when Jorge Torres and Dathan Ritzenhein were competing at the World XC Championship back at the turn of the century. The decisions of what goes on during January to March cannot go untold without considering being ready for outdoor championship season in May and June. And for some athletes the planning goes farther, as 2021 will be an Olympic year with the U.S. Olympic Trials currently set for June 18-27 in Eugene, just six days after the NCAA Championships are hosted in Eugene, Ore., from June 9-12. 
"An athlete who races the NCAA Cross Country Championships on March 15 will have to quickly transition to track training, and also maybe delay the start of races on the track," said Wetmore. "It is a bigger problem for middle-distance runners, like Lalo or Rachel, than 5k-10k athletes. But all teams are in the same difficult position. I guess that makes it fair."
Team national title, individual national title, Olympic Trials participant, Olympian ... these are all possibilities to the athletes and decisions that need to be made over a tiny six-month window.
"There really aren't many U.S. collegiate distance runners that will make the Olympic team, but many will want to be peaked for the U.S. Trials," Wetmore said. "That'll be another challenge. How to be ready enough in February to be selected for NCAA Cross Country in March, then ready for collegiate track season in May and June, and peak again in June or July for the trials? It will be a coaching experiment."
While the timing of things is difficult enough, there is also the added consideration of cross country in January and February in Colorado. Anywhere that accumulates snow in the United States is going to have a difficult time training for distance and competing in cross country during those months. The northern states —New England and the Pacific Northwest, along with those located in ski country — are going to have to figure out how and where to run meets to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
The only locations that would be realistic to host meets that Colorado has been to in the last decade include Stanford, Louisville, Tucson, Albuquerque, Oakland and Sunnyvale, Calif. Of those, the only location that wasn't also related to Pre-Nationals, Pac-12, Regionals or Nationals was Sunnyvale, where the Buffs sent their runners not competing at Pre-Nats in 2012 and 2013.
"Cross country is run on grass, dirt, hill and dale," added Wetmore. "In some locations those will be hard to find in December, January and February. Maybe we can get funding to go to Florida for three months."
That would be a first for the Buffs, as in the past 15 years the team has only been as far East as Louisville, Kent., and as far South as Austin, Texas. 
When asked on if there are other issues concerning coach Wetmore in 2021, his answer was, "Yeah. Everything that I have mentioned…plus another dozen problems. I guess we just try our best, then wait 'til the dust settles in July and see who survived."