Cross Country–Central America Style!

When I was hired as Cross Country coach at ISP, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I have coached on and off since 1991. I have worked with countless high school and college runners as well as adults, I have acted as race director for meets and trail races; I was confident that I could handle anything running related. What awaited me was nothing that I could imagine–the learning curve as a coach for over committed, busy ISP students was a huge and developing a program that was not focused on Saturday meets was tricky. Eventually, I settled in, created a routine, and exercised the most flexibility in any of my professional work.

Why flexible? Well, I never knew who was coming to practice and even in the last few weeks, a new runner would show up to practice out of the blue. Throughout the months, a core group formed and a schedule was created for practices–some runners committed to twice a week while others came everyday. Last month, I created the roster for the AASCA event based on attendance and time trial. What I missed was creating that sense of family that XC is known for—it happened, but until the very end of the season.


Similar to the concept of a state meet, AASCA (Association of American Schools in Central America) is the end of season event. Notice I said event not race. Ten teams from six different Central American countries flew to Panama on Wednesday. Oh yeah, first year at ISP and we were hosting the event!

Here is the schedule of the events:

Wednesday: Opening ceremonies and icebreaker for the runners during the coach’s meeting

Opening Ceremony Dinner
Opening Ceremony Dinner

Thursday: Team competition races (determined team awards). 3k for girls & 4k for boys.

Friday: Relay race. 5 x 1k for girls & 5 x 2k for boys

Head timer and self-proclaimed volunteer of the year! Dano was on call as course setter, head official (he had to make a tough call on a finish line grievance), and even babysitter :)!

Saturday: 1. Individual races (seeded from results of Thursdays event). 6 races were run: Girls & Boys Bronze, Silver, and Gold. 2. Fun Adventure race. 3. Awards and closing ceremony

Sunday: Fly (or drive if from Panama) home

Thank God for the Athletic Director at ISP! Pete Smyth is a miracle worker. During the 5 days, we created 4 courses. Yes, 4! Day 1’s course was a muddy mess–shoes were sucked off feet, athletes slipped around corners. It was a beautiful day of running :)! It was the way cross country races were intended. So Day 2 we made a new course for the relay–fast and furious with one dodgy corner. Day 3 was our 3rd course–slight changes from Friday’s course. We felt great about the change and woke up Saturday knowing we were ready. Little did we know…

Coaches & Athletic Directors from all the schools–over a dozen nationalities represented!

I woke up on Saturday as rested as I could be after monitoring hallways past 10:30. I made my way down to the course to finish the touches when I noticed a bit of traffic on our course. Pete quickly ran up to me to let me know that we had a problem. There was an adventure race scheduled that we didn’t know about (typical Latin American communication) and it ate up almost 1/2 of our course. Luckily, we had a lot of land to work with so we quickly changed direction and created a loop. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds and stress levels were rising. With the help of Dano and Javier (ultra runner extraordinaire & part of the ISP P.E. department), we got it done. Now all I had to do was corral my runners and make sure they were warmed up & ready. Also, not as easy as it sounds. Overall, ISP ran some gutsy races and we came away with 2 medals as well as a handful of top 10 finishes.

Finally on Saturday was the adventure race! Super fun and  the pictures can tell the story better than I can!

AASCA was a great and a huge learning experience! One of the most tiring weeks of work of my life, but well worth it!

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