Panther runners practice the p’s | SkyHiDailyNews.com

Panther runners practice the p’s

A group of lady Panther cross country runners dig their feet in as they head out from the starting line at a recent meet. The panthers runners are having a successful season this year with many students recording personal records.

A group of lady Panther cross country runners dig their feet in as they head out from the starting line at a recent meet. The panthers runners are having a successful season this year with many students recording personal records.

Living in the high Rockies offers unique opportunities and advantages not otherwise possible in most of the rest of the state or country.

It can be an extremely advantageous home for athletes, especially endurance athletes who rely on their body’s ability to transport oxygen to their cells to reach their maximum potential. Not surprisingly Grand County has a strong tradition of endurance athletes and long distance runners. The Middle Park High School (MPHS) Cross Country Team is part of that tradition.

The MPHS Cross Country Team is closing in on the end of their 2016 season. The runners are led by head coach, and East Grand Middle School teacher, Scotty Hicks and Assistant Coach Courtney Lincoln. Hicks is currently in his fifth year as head coach for the Panther runners and is mentoring 23 student athletes this year including 12 girls and 11 boys.

So far this year Coach Hicks says his runners are looking sharp and working hard. “We are looking good this year,” Coach Hicks said. “We have the girls, who have won a couple of meets, and the boys are running in a good pack. We’ve had a couple of really good breakthrough races. We are setting ourselves up for a really good post season run with league and regionals.”

Hicks attributes much of the Panthers success this season to the dedication and hard work of the runners over the course of the summer. “We have a summer running club that runs really from June all the way through the summer,” Hicks said. “Our numbers for that this year were really good… We are seeing huge personal records and students racing a lot better this year.” Over the summer students and Hicks would meet twice a week at local trailheads around Grand County for trail runs and would also meet twice a week for lifting sessions.

Hicks highlighted the work of all his dedicated athletes but saved special recognition for Brevik Petersen as being, “especially dedicated to his summer routine” which Hicks stated contributed significantly to Petersen’s in-season success.

Official practices for the Panther’s Cross Country Team started in mid-August in preparation for their season, which features 10 different meets, including State. All of the meets Hicks scheduled for the team this year are 5k races, 5k is equal to three-and-one-tenth-miles.

When the Panthers Cross Country Team practices they do more than just run for extended periods of time, though that is a significant aspect of their training regimen with 35 to 60 minute runs being standard. The topography of Grand County allows the team to take full advantage of hill running as well.

Early in the season Hicks said he focuses on developing stamina, fitness and solid running dynamics. As the season progresses the team spends more time developing speed and power. As the season begins to close Hicks said he tries to emphasize running mechanics such as foot speed and lowering the runners volume of steps.

For Coach Hicks the most challenging aspect of cross country running is getting his athletes to understand the importance of pacing, not just in a single race but over the course of the entire fall season.

“From when you start to when you really want to have your best race is about 10 weeks,” Hicks said. “It can be frustrating that we aren’t running our fastest in September, but that isn’t what this sport is designed to do. It is tough waiting for success but if you are fast in September you won’t be fast in October. Our whole season is training for a peak race. If you are peaking in September then things aren’t right.”

Hicks said this year will be a big transition year for the Panther runners, which could create challenges for the squad. “We are going to have a pretty big changing of the guard,” Hicks said. “We are losing a lot of seniors this year. But we are seeing some of the juniors stepping into leadership roles.”

Overall though Coach Hicks is extremely proud of the dedication and work ethic shown by the students from MPHS. “These are the two deepest rosters we have had since I have been here,” he said. “I think if they stay focused and healthy for the next month I think they should be able to reach all of their goals.”

The Panthers Cross Country Team will head down to the Sheridan High School Invitational in Denver this weekend for an early October meet. Racing begins at 9 a.m.