700 Miles and an Orange Moon

It was about this time last year that I wrote a blog detailing a recruiting trip that I took in the fall of 2017.  Unfortunately, that trip was not successful, as that talented athlete chose to attend another institution.  But, I enjoyed writing it and I heard back that it was a fun read – so I thought I would write about a trip I took this fall.

I planned a trip of 700+ miles to see one of our top recruits recently.  I did it all in one day, and it was pretty exhausting.  But I get pumped up for the adventure and would like to share some of the trip with you.  A timeline for that trip follows:

6:30am- Woke to a warm morning.  Got a quick lift in, checked some email and re-checked my bags and small cooler for the trip (as my dad taught me, you pack the night before so you are ready for the adventure).

7:15am – My daughter awoke and we spent the next two hours putting puzzles together, riding bikes and shooting hoops on our basketball court in the driveway.  I knew I wouldn’t see her until the next morning, so I planned to spend some additional time with her before I left.  I value that one on one time with my beautiful little girl.  I love her more than anything and want to be present in her life as much as I can.

9am – Depart for the cross-country meet.  I have about 6 hours in the car, and I am ready for the adventure to begin.  At 10am, I ate a small bag of pretzels and started rehydrating for a hot afternoon run (if I can get there early enough).

10:35am -I cross from Pennsylvania into a second state.  Shortly thereafter I pass into a third state.  Around 11am, I run into boredom and hunger again and eat one of my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I have over 20 ounces of water in me so far!!

11:50am- My first rest stop.  It’s beautiful outside, so I decide to fill up my water bottle and write some recruiting letters on a picnic table at the rest stop.  It’s going to be a long trip, so I decide to break it down into a few parts.  I thought I would spend 30 minutes or so doing something other than driving the car.  I enjoyed the sun (it was 87 degrees already), wrote a few letters and checked in with my wife.  After that, I was on the road again….

12:13pm – Ate my second peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drank a ton more water.  I didn’t plan that out very well, as I had to use the bathroom pretty quickly.  I planned a stop at the next fast food restaurant, and around 1:30pm I pull into a McDonald’s to use the restroom and grab a cheeseburger (I just had to buy something).  The clerk was very nice and told me that she likes punk rock and that the music in the restaurant is pretty “lame”.  I almost have 50 ounces of water in at this point.

2:33pm – I cross into my third state.  I stop around 3pm for another restroom break.  Prior to that, I spent 20 minutes on a speaker phone with my assistant coach who was preparing for practice that afternoon.

3:45pm – I stop for gasoline and a snack (more food).  After I pull out of the gas station, I realize a police officer also pulled out of another gas station and he/she trails me for the next ten minutes.  I was nervous, but I obeyed all the laws and kept within the speed limit.  Whew….

4:30pm – I arrive at the race site, but there is nothing going on.  No race, no runners, no sign of life…..I pulled up a few other local schools on my phone and think I have the right spot.  Thirty minutes later I pull into a middle school and see some runners preparing for a race.  I think I found it.  I finished my water bottle and realized I had almost 80 ounces of water in me and I prepare for a mid-afternoon run on the course.

**I didn’t take notes on the rest of the trip, but here are some highlights:  completed a 4-mile run, met the meet official and the head coach of the host school, talked with few parents and watched a great high school race.  After the race I got to talk with a few high school runners about their future and met a few more parents.  The trip was successful in my eyes and I head to the car ready for the 6-hour trip home.

On the trip home, a few things stood out to me.  One, a large orange moon appeared on the horizon as I was about half way home.  It was one of the coolest things I have seen in a while.  Secondly, I stopped a few times for breaks and food and had an ice cream cone around 9pm.  It was a reward for the long trip in the car and it was delicious. Third, one of my athletes from the college was sick and I got an update from a coach.  It’s tough being a few hours from home and feeling like you aren’t able to help them in a time of need.

I arrived home around 1:45am and was pretty tired.  But it was worth it.  Recruiting can be stressful, time-consuming and daunting.  Other times it is exciting, and is the reason I do what I do.  I become re-energized from talking with young men and women about their plans for the future.  I take mentoring really seriously, and I know that this trip could bring another gifted young man or woman to campus.  They could be the next superstar runner or the next person to “change the world”.  That is so cool.

I head to bed, ready to do it all again the next day.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Take a Deep Breath

This is the busiest time of the year for me, and I would assume, for many of the fall coaches across the country.  At the collegiate level, we are trying to finalize camp schedules/logistics, setting up the next recruiting class and putting the final touches on preparation for the season that lies ahead.  Many of us also work second jobs, so we are trying to get all of this work done while we put in 40 hours a week in our other work capacity.  If you are a mother or a father, add those responsibilities into the mix too.

I should be good at it though, right? I mean, I am entering my ninth season as a head coach and fourteenth season within the program (and the University).  But it’s not really that simple.  I think I have learned a few things along the way, but the stress always mounts this time of the year and I can feel a lot of tension build within myself.

For those of you who are feeling that tension mount, I thought I would offer a few pointers to help you in the next few weeks.  At the end of the day, I know what you are feeling and I want to help you during the first part of the journey this season.

If you aren’t in sports, you might find this helpful during your peak time of the year.  Maybe it’s right before finals (as a student), right before a holiday season (retail) or before a big event in your child’s life (parents).  No matter where you are at in life, I think these might be helpful for you.

First of all, take a deep breath and exhale slowly.  This was a tactic that was implemented in my life about 15 years ago.  A former colleague of mine urged me to step back, take a deep breath and exhale slowly.  She noted that it was the easiest way to let the stress escape from your body.  It sounds too good to be true, but try it.  While you are reading this, just close your eyes, take a deep breath and exhale out.  I bet you feel better after a few reps.  Why does it work so well?  A few reasons, but to simplify it, you are giving your lungs the oxygen they need and they are getting rid of the carbon dioxide as you exhale.  This ultimately makes you feel better and tends to lower your heart rate.

NOTE:  If you want to take this a step further, I urge you to research deep abdominal breathing.

The second pointer I would share is to anticipate and prepare.  It might be a bit too late if your stress is already mounting, but I would suggest planning ahead for the peak time and getting as much work done as you can.  We all love a good vacation and a summer down period (as coaches).  I wouldn’t trade my beach vacation away for anything.  But when you return from your vacation, hit the ground running.  You can get so much done in that quiet and peaceful time in the summer.  For me, it’s as simple as creating a “to-do list” 3-4 months out from the season and getting as much done as I can in my down time.

Look at it this way – if I can schedule all of my hotels, buses/vans, departure times and recruiting visits during May or June, I will feel so much more organized and ready when we hit the busy time in August.  In my other professional role, I develop an 18-24 month calendar of events each year so that I am prepared for things well in advance.  My staff knows what is coming up and what they need to do to get ready.  I urge you to do the same.

Lastly, I think its important to prioritize.  During a recruiting trip a few years ago, I sat in a hotel room and prioritized things in my life.  It was a time in my life where I was struggling to balance things in my personal life, work life and coaching career.  That night really got me back on track.  It’s helpful to step back and evaluate what you have going on in your life and figuring out what is most important to you.  When those tough decisions come up, you already have your priorities in order and you can follow what your heart tells you is the right path.

I know this is easier said than done, but take a stab at it.  And to take this section a step further, make sure your coaching staff knows your priorities too.  Our coaching staff knows that family is always first – and we cover each other when we have important things to take care of at home.  And to be honest, the team knows where I stand on this too, so they know that I might miss a meeting or a practice to take care of my family.  They are, and always will be, my #1 priority.

To all of you balancing the stress this time of the year – I wish you good luck!  I believe in you, and I am confident you will endure and be successful.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Test Yourself

It’s the point in the summer that can make or break a fall athletic season.  Most athletes have worked extremely hard and stuck with the plan the first four to six weeks of summer training.  If they have seen some gains during their training, they are more apt to continue to work hard and have a good season.  But too many athletes feel a little drop in motivation this time of the year because they have not been able to see their growth.  This could set the athlete up for a poor season.

For me, I think its vital to test yourself at this period of the summer to see where you stand in your training.  It’s easy for a runner to “test out”, as they can simply do a standard distance like the mile, two-mile or the 5k.  If your sport is basketball or soccer, you might have to get creative.  But I know there are some things you can test as well.

I believe so much in testing, that I actually add a small test during each training cycle throughout the entire season.  In order to stay organized and on track, my coaching staff and I tend to break the season into four cycles or training periods.  Each cycle tends to have a theme and there are some goals for our athletes in each cycle.  Ultimately, the athlete can set themselves up for a great season if they focus on each cycle that they are in and don’t try to rush their training or their progression.  That’s why we add some test periods in each cycle, to keep them on track and help them stay motivated.

How does this apply to the non-athlete, former athlete or the professional that is sitting down at their desk looking to increase performance?  Well, it’s the same premise.  We can all get stale in our personal and professional lives.  The work environment can become cumbersome or boring, so its crucial to evaluate and assess your place in life too.

Below are some tips that the non-athlete and athlete can use to find a way to “test out” in life:

Set a test date well in advance:  Give yourself a test date and mark it on your calendar.  The coach in me likes to see the date on the calendar and works towards it.  It keeps me motivated and helps me work hard.  The professional in me likes to put the date on the calendar so that I can prioritize this event and help me plan out my day.

The test should be measurable:  My runners usually like to see what their mile time is and how they are progressing.  They have an exact number (in this case a time) that they can see and know they are progressing.  It can be the amount of push ups you can do, the amount of words you can type in a minute or the amount of customers you can efficiently serve without a slip up.  Test yourself with a number or time that you can write down and look at later.  It will help you evaluate again two months down the road.

Don’t forget that failure is a big ingredient to success:  While doing some research for this blog, I ran across a quote that has quickly become one of my favorites.  Vernon Law, former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher and Cy Young Award winner, once said “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward.”  If your perception is that you failed the test, don’t get discouraged.  Chances are you are progressing and it didn’t show itself yet.  Let it motivate you to be better the next time.

Test out consistently and sporadically:  Make sure you give yourself some time to make gains.  A mistake can be to test yourself so often that you “water down” the test and don’t allow yourself the time to make gains that will show you that you are progressing.  This can become frustrating if you test yourself weekly and only see minor gains or no gains at all.

All of us are in different stages or cycles in our lives.  Some might be ready for their Super Bowl tomorrow, while others may be in week three of a 25-week training plan.  No matter where you are at, step back and test yourself and evaluate where you are in the process.  You will be a better athlete and a better person for doing so.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Heat Acclimation

Summer is here!  We made it through the time of the year when snow cancellations scroll across the bottom of the screen.  We made it through the time of the year when we not only check the air temperature, but we have to figure in the wind chill.  We finally moved on from “Frosty 5Ks”, thick ski gloves and six layers – not a cake or lasagna – but layers of clothes.  As a runner, I am ready for the warmer weather.

This weekend it was warm; 80 degrees and sunshine each day for the last 3 days.  It was amazing to run in shorts and t-shirt.  I was smart too, as I hydrated throughout the morning, wore light clothing and chose some shaded routes.

BUT, it was still hot and my workouts suffered.

It reminded me of a discussion I would have every once in a while with our retired tennis coach.  He was a big believer in heat acclimation (or in some cases cold acclimation).  He had a theory that this was one of the factors you had to work into a strategy for a good training plan.  The younger “me” didn’t put much thought into it, but the older I get, the more I believe he was spot on.

The Korey Stringer Institute (ksi.uconn.edu) defines heat acclimation as “a complex series of changes or adaptations that occur in response to heat stress in a controlled environment over the course of 7 to 14 days”.  The Institute describes some of those changes as increased heart rate, increased sweat, the lack of blood distribution and lowering of overall performance.  Heat acclimation is real, and we need to take it really seriously.

Consider my situation in southwestern PA:  I have been running 20-25 miles per week continuously for the last 25 weeks.  The average temperature in that period is 38 degrees (with an average low of 25 and an average high of 62 degrees).  Naturally, my body is not going to handle a big chance in temperature.  Heat acclimation is real, and we need to take it seriously.

There are a few things we can implement in our training that may help with heat acclimation this time of the year.  Here are a few things to consider in your own training:

  • Wear lightweight and light-colored clothing
  • Work out in the morning or when the sun is about to set
  • Cut the workout in half and do one half in the morning and one half in the evening
  • Add in some walk breaks
  • Find a shaded route to walk/run
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day and carry water on your training run/walk

Morale of the story for me today – take heat acclimation seriously.  We all want a long and rewarding running career, so take some steps today to prepare for the heat.  And don’t be afraid to back off if the weather gets a bit too hot or you aren’t feeling good that day.

One misconception out there is that performance will suffer from one day off or one workout skipped.  Trust me, that is not the case.  It take 10 days or longer for your fitness level to decrease.  Research and science are on my side.

Stay cool, stay safe and enjoy the summer!!

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

The “Game Changers”

The Class of 2018 walked across the stage yesterday during the Commencement Ceremony at Waynesburg University.  I wanted to congratulate the entire class – and I wish you the best.  Go out an change the world!

For this particular blog, I wanted to write about my feelings regarding a small portion of that class – the WU distance squad.  I call them the “Game changers”. It’s a term I remember from a book I read a few years ago regarding the 2018 presidential election (The book is titled Game Change and was written by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin). Every time I use the term “game changer”, I think of that book. The book details a lot of events and decision made that helped Barack Obama become President of the United States. Similar to the theme in that book, this class put some things in motion that changed the course of history for our cross country and track programs.  Ultimately, they changed the culture. They changed the way the game is played. They made history.

10 men and women graduated in this class. Sure they had some similarities, but they had a lot of differences. One of them grew up less than a mile from campus yet another drove a car over nine hours to return home every break. Their majors range from sports broadcasting to business to nursing. Some of them excelled at short distance races (including the hurdles) while a handful preferred running 25 laps on an oval track (the dreaded 10k).  Some of them preferred cowboy boots and country music, and others preferred putt putt golf and Taylor Swift.  They didn’t always see eye to eye. For some groups (or teams), these differences could have destroyed any path to success.

But… They are FAMILY.

What’s particularly admirable about this group of “game changers” is that they always put the team first and sacrificed individual goals for the betterment of the program. Their numbers are incredible. In fact, what they accomplished may never be matched by another incoming class. But what you cannot measure that makes me so proud (as their coach) is that they changed our culture. The team was successful before they arrived to campus but they took us to a new level. They brought confidence. They brought cohesiveness. They were selfless. And they came to work every day trying to make themselves and their teammates better.

To say that I am grateful for their time here is an understatement.

Their lasting legacy will be that future generations of Waynesburg distance runners will be grateful for their time here too. Why? Because they changed the game and the way that game was played!

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

The Excitement of a New Season

Life comes at you quick.  It seemed like yesterday we were ringing in the new year, and here we are in the second week of March.  Where does the time go?

A great example of the time flying by is the start of the Major League baseball season in 19 days.  Here in southwestern PA, there are mixed emotions about the team this year.  Some think we might be talented enough to make a playoff run, while the majority of fans are bracing themselves for another long summer of losing baseball.  No matter what side of the fence you are on, I think the excitement for this year is growing day by day.

Personally, I like the feeling right before a new season.  I think we all look forward to the start of something new, and I am no exception.  From the Pirates fan’s perspective, you could be only a few short weeks away from the most memorable season of all time.  Sure, the wheels could fall off and the team could lose 100 games, but you just never know.  Every team starts opening day with a 0-0 record and everyone is tied for first place.  That is what is so exciting about the start of a new year…you just never know what the future will bring.

As a coach, you have a similar feeling about the start of a new year.  But in my experience, there is also a lot of pressure, stress and a lot of work to get done in anticipation of that opening day of competition.  We don’t really savor that feeling of an opening day like the fan does.  Don’t get me wrong, the excitement is still there.  It’s just a different feeling.

No matter where you are in your life, you are probably anticipating the start of something new on the horizon.  Maybe you are going to be starting a new job, moving into a new house or planning a wedding.  That is the start of a new season for you.  I am sure you have butterflies in your belly; just like the professional or college athlete when they step into the batter’s box on opening day.

Today I wanted to give you a few things to consider as you prep for that new season ahead.

First, I suggest you write out a plan on some paper and post it where you can see it.  That new season will be coming quick, and you want to “master” the first few weeks.  The plan will keep you on track.  On this plan make sure you checklist some things you want to complete and outline how you will accomplish them.

Second, come up with a theme or a slogan that will drive you every day.  I know it can be corny or cheesy, but having that slogan in the back of your mind when the times get tough will keep you focused.  A couple of good examples are “Believe” (used by our championship track team in the mid 2000s), and “Embrace the Challenge” (which I pull out a few times a year with my distance squad).  Whatever it is, it has to be related to your long term goal.

Lastly, remove the negativity in your life (and on your team).  If there is negativity in you or in those around you, it makes the journey difficult.  I bet your “new season” is already tough, but you are just making it tougher if you hear from those around you that you cannot accomplish the task.  You don’t need that in your life.  Surround yourself with positivity through motivational quotes, caring individuals and loving teammates (family and friends).

Good luck to all of you who are starting a new season – opening day is right around the corner!

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Too High or Too Low

My life has been a roller coaster the last few months.  There isn’t one particular reason  for that, it’s been a bunch of things in work and in my personal life that has caused me to be apart of a whirlwind of emotions.  I bet you are just like me at times in your life.

Some things in my life get me to be very “high” with a lot of positive vibes.  These moments in my life are very rewarding and put a smile on my face.  There are small victories every day, and they come when you least expect them.  They tend to give me an adrenaline rush and my confidence spikes.  After they happen, I think I can accomplish anything.  I might be a little cocky for a while too.  That’s what I mean when I get “too high”.

On the contrary, there are “low” moments in my life.  I would assume there are low moments in your life too.  We all struggle through them.  Something negative happens in our life and we don’t handle it very well, and it sets us into depression.  Our immediate response inside our head is, “I can’t do anything right”.  Our confidence drops quickly and we aren’t sure we will ever be able to turn things around.  That’s what I mean when I get “too low”.

It’s easy to turn this concept into an athletic analogy – in fact, let me give you two off the top of my head.  First, let’s think about the life of a college recruiter.  (I know, this is a topic I reference frequently….sorry)  On a Monday I could get a commitment from a top recruit, and I get so “high”.  I can’t help but think about the next four years and all the championships we are going to win with that recruit.  He or she is going to be a “game-changer”, and I am on top of the world.  Little did I know, I get a call on Tuesday from a recruit who tells me that they are going to attend our rival school because it seems to be a better fit.  I hang up the phone and head into depression for the next week.  Ask my wife, this happens dozens of times in the recruiting cycle.  On a side note – my wife is a saint – she puts up with a lot!

The second scenario happens every season, and if you coach, it has happened to you.  One week, you are the dominant team, heading towards historic accomplishments.  You are on a roll and riding high.  In the snap of a finger, things change.  Your star athlete gets hurt, and is out for the season.  You are beaten by a team that is ranked lower than you.  Someone quits the team.  All of sudden that dominant team is lucky to make it through the year.

How does that happen?  How do we go from being on top of the world in that moment of extreme high, to being in the dumps, on the verge of losing everything, in that moment of extreme low?

I don’t think any of us has a really good answer.  Why?  Because if we are placed in a situation of failure, we are going to respond a certain way.  No matter how much we have prepped ourselves for that moment, most of us do not like to lose.  All I can offer is a suggestion.  In the moment of extreme “high”, pull yourself back to the middle ground.  Sure, you might still be excited and looking forward to the future – that’s good; keep that feeling.  On the contrary, when you face moments of extreme “low”, pull yourself back to the middle ground.  It’s okay to grieve and suffer for a bit, but move on.

Seek middle ground in your life.  It will guide you towards success.  With that said, do not be afraid to celebrate the joys (“highs”) and learn from the failures (“lows”).  Those ups and downs will be your “story” forty years from now.  It will be an amazing story.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.