When it comes to cross country, weather conditions can occasionally play a factor in a race.
Early in the season, Maine’s high school runners typically contend with late-summer warmth. But when the calendar flips to October, Maine’s weather is just as unpredictable as a 5-kilometer race. In frequent cases, you’re likely to see mud, and lots of mud. Maybe some wind. Maybe a few raindrops. I remember practicing in an October snowstorm one year.
Or, the weather gods cooperate and you get bright sunshine and cool, crisp conditions that typically equate to fast times as high school athletes start to hit their October peak.
But, even though muck and mire are just as much a part of this sport as hill and dale, safety is an important factor to consider, and that’s why the Maine Principals’ Association made the right decision in postponing the upcoming regional and state championship meets.
The Northern and Southern Maine regionals were originally scheduled to be run last weekend, but will instead be held this weekend in Belfast and Cumberland, with the state meet to follow on Nov. 5 in Belfast.
Heavy rain – which Maine sorely needed – was in the forecast on Friday and into Saturday, and MPA officials made the call on Friday morning to give teams last weekend off.
I’ve been around cross country for 17 years as a participant, coach and a journalist. I’ve run in the rain many times, including in a cold downpour which soaked the 2002 Eastern Maine regionals, in which my Brewer team missed repeating as champions by the thinnest of margins.
That day, temperatures were in the 40’s and the grounds behind Troy Howard Middle School were mucky to the point where the following week’s state meet was the last time I wore the shoes that I wore in Belfast that rainy afternoon.
On Saturday, the forecast called for off-and-on showers and temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s. Typically, those aren’t bad racing conditions, but MPA officials were rightfully worried about course conditions in Belfast and Cumberland.
“It’s not the rain that [is forecast] to occur during the race, as much as how much it will impact the course before we get to the race,” MPA Assistant Executive Director Gerry Durgin said Friday. “I can’t predict, nor can you or anyone else, how much damage could be done to a course.”
Officials were rightfully thinking about the safety of the athletes.
While cross country runners wear larger spikes in their shoes than they would on the track, all it takes is one runner slipping on a muddy turn and getting injured or trampled to mar a championship event.
Also, in championship meets, runners deserve to compete on the best track possible. This is the time of year when teams and individuals are in tip-top shape and should be able to showcase their talents on a course hasn’t endured Mother Nature’s wrath.
The courses in Belfast and Cumberland, at the Troy Howard Middle School and Twin Brook Recreation Center, respectively, are arguably the two finest cross country courses in the state. Come next weekend, runners likely won’t even notice a storm blew through the state and soaked both grounds.
Officials at both sites will have plenty of time to ensure the trails and fields are ready for what should be a couple of great weekends of racing, and that’s great for all of Maine’s high school runners.
It should also be noted that the postponements will not affect Maine athletes’ ability to qualify for and compete in the New England championships, which are scheduled for Nov. 12 in Vermont.
Hopefully, Mother Nature will cooperate the next two weekends, and some fast times will be posted by some of Maine’s most talented runners and teams.