Tucker McNinch, following up his Western Mass. individual cross country championship for Lenox last year, did plenty of offseason running to be ready for
Tucker McNinch, following up his Western Mass. individual cross country championship for Lenox last year, did plenty of offseason running to be ready for the 2014 season. (Matthew Sprague / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

Even by cross-country standards, the Lenox boys' practice Monday was a tough one.

Sure, there were drills and even some games, but not until an approximately 8.25-mile run in the Pittsfield State Forest had been completed.

Even for the most capable long-distance runners -- and Lenox has them, including defending Western Mass. Division II champion Tucker McNinch -- that's a tough run. But the Millionaires didn't look much worse for wear as they reached the finish at the parking lot Monday.

They'd put in the offseason miles to allow themselves to be challenged.

"Cross country really starts in June," Lenox assistant Albert Najimy said during a break in practice. "That's where they build their conditioning. It's all about the long run ... coming into the season aerobically fit so they can get in the workouts."

The popular belief among local cross country runners seems to be that, if your offseason miles aren't in the double digits per week -- and not just 10, either; we're talking closer to 40 -- you won't be ready to run your best in the fall.

That dedication goes hand-in-hand with a simple love of running.

"It's a sport you have to want to do," Lenox senior Ben Herrick said. "You can't drag yourself into it. You have to want to go out to run every day."

That's what Herrick, like many of his teammates, did this summer. He logged approximately 40 miles per week, with 3-mile days being referred to as "light." Forty wasn't a set goal for him; it was just the point he felt was best for him.


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"Some kids need to do 70 miles and some need to do only 20," Herrick said. "It just depends on how much you can handle."

And how high you're willing to go. Cross country courses are rarely flat, as a high school track is in the spring. Many of the county's top male runners in the fall also do the mile and/or two-mile in track and field, but they're back to hills in the summer.

McNinch, for one, doesn't have to go far to find an uphill challenge.

"I live at the bottom of two hills. Every run, I start a long uphill," he said. "There's no real flat surface in Lenox; anywhere I run, I have to take a lot of hills."

The older runners typically have an idea of what they need to do without being told by coaches. In James McMahon's case at Wahconah, that's a good thing. Five of the varsity boys runners are seniors this fall, making the first-year cross country coach's job a little easier. McMahon wasn't appointed until the end of the school year, replacing Tom Keefe.

"They had a plan from Coach Keefe that they're using," McMahon said. "Generally, I'd tell them to focus on getting their mileage up. They've had a group that practices with the captains a couple of times a week.

"Over the summer, depending on age and fitness level, I've got kids who I know have been running 30-40 miles consistently. You've got some kids like Eric [Klem] who are pushing close to 50."

Now that the preseason is in its second week, many coaches are finding out who did the necessary offseason work and who didn't. McMahon, who also coaches the Wahconah girls, had the teams run a time trial Monday. The varsity boys are averaging 6-8 miles per day at practice, and the girls are anywhere from 3-5 miles.

"It's become pretty apparent who's been working and staying up to condition," he said.

Judging by Herrick's cheerful demeanor at the midway point of Monday's practice in the forest, he's been working, too.

"I'm tired, but it's satisfying, so it's worth it," he said.

To reach Matthew Sprague:
msprague@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6254.
On Twitter: @BE_MSprague.