Crossing the Distance: How Cross Country has Adapted to COVID-19


Shriyan Gote (12)

The boys’ varsity team surveys their opponents and stretches before their center meet. Pictured here are captains Samuel Forbes (12) and Alex Kwok (12).

On Wednesday, September 8, Irvington’s cross country team was unfortunately outranked by several schools at their first center meet with the Mission Valley Athletics League (MVALs). Boys’ and Girls’ Varsity, Junior Varsity (JV), and Boys’ Frosh/Soph teams participated in this race. Possibly one of the toughest sports on campus, cross country has only been made more difficult by pandemic restrictions, but Irvington’s team has persevered and embraced their team spirit. 

This year, tryouts and COVID-19 restrictions led to a much smaller team than usual. Typically, there are around 70 runners, but this year there are only about 35. 

“The big change, though, is the masks for runners,” Coach David Thomson, the Irvington cross country coach, said. “The build up in their mileage from week to week has been slower. I want to give them more time to get used to running in masks.” 

Masks have affected times across the league as well. They’ve had a slight decrease due to the difficulties with running, since proper breathing is needed for runs. However, in order to adapt to these changes, the cross country team has also been using a different set of masks to help them breathe more efficiently.

“We use running masks,” says Samuel Forbes (12), the Boys’ Varsity captain. “They’re better than the medical masks for running so it’s a little bit easier to breathe, but they’re still difficult and definitely harder to run with.”

A non-COVID related change is the introduction of center meets, which are brand new. Previously, most meets, known as dual meets, were between two different schools. The final MVALs meet with all the schools would be at the end of the season. This year, all 8 schools in the league run together at center meets.

“The reason is so that they can get used to running in bigger groups, which is what you would have to do at the state meet and the state qualifying,” Coach Dave explained. “The more practice they get, the more prepared they are for those races.” 

Shriyan Gote (12), a prospective varsity runner, believes the change has been beneficial, saying, “It’s a bit more fun because you get to see people from all the different schools.”

The varsity team typically runs three miles every race, while freshmen, sophomores, and JV members run two miles. Gote, who is currently in JV but aiming for varsity, noted that “running throughout the summer and the offseason definitely helps you get faster.” 

Due to the lack of in-person school, there was much less interaction between schools and within the Irvington team. Workouts were also different, with Coach Dave posting daily practices on the team’s Facebook group. Self motivation was essential to keep the members from falling behind. According to Forbes, keeping team spirit this year has also been hard for the captains and coaches with the low number of participants. 

“I think that our connection is there, but the team spirit has gone,” he noted. “For example, after the cross country meets, we have a squirrel song. It’s just a song that we do after the cross country meet with all the schools. It’s definitely what brings us together after a hard race, and it’s been difficult to get everyone into a circle and participate.”

However, both Coach Dave and Gote felt that team spirit has been high this year, even to pre-pandemic levels. 

“The heart is there. The competition is still there. The times we’ll get there as they get in better shape later on. But if you threw the watch away and just watched them run, they look like they always do,” Coach Dave said.

Everyone perseveres and puts in the work. Even if their times may be affected by masks and lack of proper training during quarantine, they are determined to have a successful season.