The race has been completed, which means every cross-country participant regardless of stamina level or ribbon color is exhausted.
Still, there remains work to do.
Cool-downs are the unseen work long-distance athletes put in after crossing the finish line. The run following the run.
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It would seem excessively demanding asking — OK, expecting — a high school athlete to follow a 4,000- or 5,000-meter competition in August/September heat with more running, but the athletes themselves know no other way.
“After a race not everyone likes to do a cool-down, but we know they’re necessary. We all know we can get injured if we don’t do them,” said Center Grove junior Val Clark, who is expected to be the Trojans’ No. 1 girls cross-country runner this season.
Clark, who also runs the 1,600- and 3,200 meters during track and field season, suggested team cool-downs are generally the same in both sports, about 10 minutes at a fairly light pace.
However, not every athlete or program manages the practice of cooling down the same way. Some do longer distances at a faster pace. Others might opt for a more methodical tempo so not to apply undue pressure to muscles and joints.
But they are necessary.
Vital for recovery
The cool-down is designed to get one’s body back to normal after intense competition by gradually lowering athletes’ heart rates and the temperature of their muscles.
And, like most everything else, they are structured to best fit an athlete.
“It probably varies from kid to kid and from race to race. We like them to get at least a 20-minute cool-down. For some of these cross-country kids 20 minutes is almost nothing. It doesn’t worry me that they’re doing it,” Greenwood girls/boys cross-country coach Blaine Williams said.
Woodmen boys runner Hunter Smith starts his senior season as the team’s top performer, basically mirroring his role of a year ago when he placed fifth at the Franklin Sectional.
Smith never has attempted to bypass a cool-down, nor does he want to.
“I think it’s really necessary because if you don’t cool down you have all that lactic acid buildup in your legs, so when you go back out to run again your legs are really tight,” Smith said.
“Everyone on the team usually has the same workouts and the same cool-downs. We usually do about a 20-minute run. After meets it’s a team thing, but you can do your own thing. Usually it’s me and some other guys from varsity cooling down during the girls race.”
This season the boys races will be conducted first — the two alternate every cross-country season in Indiana — which means Smith will map out roughly an 18-minute cool-down following his event.
“Sometimes I’ll lay down for like 10 minutes after I finish a race,” Smith said, laughing. “I’m really tired.”
Center Grove girls cross-country coach Wes Dodson at 38 is young enough to run with his athletes during practice and old enough to know what happens if he doesn’t cool down.
It’s a practice Dodson strongly endorses, knowing how an athlete trains today can impact what level he or she will train at tomorrow.
“If you just went and sat down after practice or a meet your body is not going to be ready to go back into action. Becoming an older man by the second, if I don’t do things properly you won’t be able to go at an optimal level,” Dodson said.
Cool-downs aren’t just for high school runners. They are extremely mainstream as college and professional athletes alike rely on their benefits.
Long-distance specialists are taught about cool-downs at a young age.
In the case of Whiteland Community High School sophomore Josh Campbell it was sixth grade, though he admits his post-meet runs today are longer and taken more seriously than when he started out in cross-country.
“Usually my cool-down is 15 to 20 minutes after a practice or meet. It basically just calms your body down. After a race your legs are pretty much gone, but you still want to do it,” Campbell said. “If you don’t do it, you’re going to feel it for a couple of days.”
Greenwood’s top girls runner, junior Krista Robinson, attempted this once with less-than-satisfactory results.
“Not a good idea. About two weeks ago after I got back from soccer practice I would start running, and then my dad made me do mile repeats. After that I was like, ‘I’m just going to go home and sit on the couch and watch TV or something,’” she said.
What ensued were a case of leg cramps.