“I surprised myself each time I set foot on the track,” Catherine Cherry said.
The Vineyard high school freshman was describing her indoor track season. She began indoor track following an impressive fall cross-country season in which she was named an Eastern Athletic Conference (EAC) All-Star. While cross-country running can be a good fit for long distance runners like Catherine, she knew she was in for a change when she first set foot on the track indoors, in mid-December. The longest indoor track event is the two-mile, a race nearly 2,000 meters shorter than Catherine’s most successful cross-country event, the 5000.
The shorter distances indoors seemed daunting to Catherine when she began. But she learned strategies that helped her reach her goals.
“The mental game is huge. One of the biggest things is not looking behind you. You have to focus on how you feel, and pushing yourself to the point of discomfort at the right time,” Catherine said.
Catherine placed third in the two-mile run at the EAC league championship meet, in a time of 12:33.77. She also placed fourth in the mile in 5:57.88.
“I couldn’t have predicted the times I ran by the end of the season when track first started. Long distance runners have to learn how to pace themselves with each new distance that they take on. You can always work on that,” she said.
After dominant performances in the EAC league meet, Catherine found herself with just the Division 5 State Championships left to capture. She said, “I ran a personal best time in the two- mile run, and came in 11th. It was a really rewarding culmination of an overall great season.”
Catherine ran the race in 12:26.89, a time that was close to a minute shorter than when she first ran that distance at the beginning of her indoor season: “I’ve grown a lot as an athlete in many ways throughout the season. I’ve learned how best to push myself, and have made a conscious effort to learn the tactical pieces to racing. Every time I raced I got something out of the experience, even when I wasn’t beating my times or winning.”
While many distance programs separate the boys and girls on the team with different workouts, Catherine found herself working out with a mixed team of nine boys and one other girl, senior Pearl Vercruysse. She believes the combination of Pearl’s leadership and the challenge of running with the boys on the team has made her confident that she can push herself to reach a higher level of success throughout the season. “Pearl worked her way up to beating every distance record this season, which really sets a high standard. We run with the boys, but it’s not strange for us at all. It’s really just one group, and we all stick together and motivate each other.”
The indoor track distance squad is composed of many members who run for three sport seasons each year. This means they participate in cross-country and both indoor and outdoor track and field. Most three-sport athletes in MVRHS find themselves picking up a different stick or practicing with a different ball each season. Catherine finds herself in a situation unique to long distance runners. She practices the same craft with many of the same teammates for the whole school year: “Continuity is appealing when it comes to who you’re running alongside every day in practice. You can’t replicate the quality of a group when you run by yourself. Without people in front and behind you at practice, the resulting improvement can be minimal.”
As a consistent high-honor-roll student, time management is a big piece of the puzzle that she has worked to master over her past two seasons. She noted, “I learned my lesson when I didn’t do any homework on the boat ride or the bus ride to my very first cross-country invitational. When you get home at 8:30 pm with a workload of a couple of hours, you realize the importance of utilizing your travel time pretty quickly.”
With a successful indoor track season she had not predicted, outdoor track offers a new challenge. “I’ll try to implement the things I’ve learned over the past two seasons into how I go about this next one. From how you train, to what you eat, how you manage your time, and when you go to sleep, the most important thing is having a plan,” Catherine said. “I’m definitely ready to keep learning about the sport and how I can be most successful in it.”