There’s nothing like it. The feeling of your alarm going off at 5:45 a.m. and waking to your pre-packed backpack and lunch made from the night before. It’s a surgical strike and within only 10 or so minutes, you are out the door. With a backpack on each shoulder, one for school, one for practice, you’re on the way to school before the sun rises.
When the idea was introduced as I was a rising sophomore, I was terrified. The plan was to meet at the track three times a week for workouts, in addition to our usual cross country practice in the afternoon. On paper, it seemed perfect. More practice equals better results, or in our case, faster times. With the cool weather and a focused mind, we were able to complete hard workouts not possible in the much warmer afternoon.
It worked like a charm. Times dropped; we hit higher mileage, and we, in turn, became stronger, faster runners. That season, we went from a 12th-place finish at state to 5th. Not only was the practice beneficial, but also we felt more like a team than ever. It was an unspoken community around our group.
We could walk the halls with a practice already under our belts —a sense of accomplishment before the first bell even rang. A respectful nod to your teammates in the hall becomes a responsibility, a sort of mutual respect that we were putting in the work, even when no one was watching.
Eventually, though, the charm wore off. The following year we decided to up our mileage and fit in a morning practice every day. With a clear-cut schedule involving different methods of training like weight lifting, all we had to do was execute the plan. Ironically, that was the hardest part. Our once badge of honor soon distinguished us apart from our alert classmates. I found myself asleep in class, too fried for afternoons, and worst of all, hurting when the competition was really around the corner.
With other teams like soccer and basketball starting to take part in the morning practice trend, I want to offer a fair warning. Student-athletes tend to pride themselves on a healthy balance, but sometimes, the tightrope you’re walking on gets thinner and thinner below your feet. Something’s gotta give eventually and compromises will have to be made.
I have no doubt that in the long run, these extra practices will produce results, but there is a point where overtraining can start to take shape and play a very serious role. While an athlete may not be able to control the schedule and level of difficulty of these morning practices, it is their responsibility to find that balance before their academic life is seriously affected. In the case of morning practices, more does not turn out to always be better in favor of the athletes. These mornings will add up, so it is crucial to figure out what needs to be ready for these early starts, so you can head out the door the moment you wake up. An extra 15 minutes really can make all the difference.
There were countless mornings where I found myself alone in a dark, empty parking lot questioning the value of coming every day. These practices will seem tiring at first. They may seem not worth it, but they do get easier, and even if no one knows your struggle in the beginning, it will make your eventual success that much better.