COLUMBIA — On Friday, MU cross country had its first official practice of the season – at 6:30 a.m.
Most of the runners were used to waking up that early. Throughout the summer they had grown accustomed to squeezing in some quality training before the days got too hot.
Heat indices hovered in the triple digits for most of last week, prompting many athletes and sports teams to train with greater caution. Often this meant planning ahead: waking up earlier, holding off until later in the evening, or accepting the limits imposed by the sweltering conditions.
“I’ve been doing at least 10 (miles) every morning,” said junior Michael Barrows, one of several members of the MU men’s cross country team who stayed in Columbia this summer to train with teammates.
The runners lived nearby one another and would meet at 6 a.m. to begin daily runs.
Barrows estimated that most of the guys have been logging anywhere from 65 to 95 miles per week, following the training guidelines given to them by MU Cross Country coach Jared Wilmes.
In order to maintain this mileage, many log a second run of the day, around 7 or 8 at night, when it’s cooler. But these second runs are generally shorter and slower than their morning workouts.
Emily Baker, a sophomore runner who returned to her hometown of Wildwood this summer, said she logged about 50 miles per week by starting her daily runs around 7 or 7:30 a.m. Other members of the women’s team who stayed in Columbia for the summer sometimes began their runs as early as 6 a.m.
“Morning practice is mostly driven by heat,” says Rebecca Wilmes, head coach for MU women’s cross country. This explains why the team expects to holdearly morning workouts in the coming weeks, until temperatures cool off. Once this happens, practices will move to 2:15 p.m.
“We get more quality done in the morning, when it’s cooler,” Rebecca Wilmes said.
Unlike other sports, distance running isn’t conducive to taking extended breaks. Some of the girls’ long runs last over two hours. Although there are a few fountains along the MKT trail, where most of their runs take place, many routes have no opportunities for water.
“I tried running mid-day a couple of days ago, and it was horrible,” said Angela Potrykus, a junior, who felt dehydrated for the rest of the day. “Ever since then I’ve gotten up very early, and in the afternoon, I’ll take a nap if I have to.”
This week’s heat also altered the training schedules of other MU teams.
The Missouri football team moved its morning practices from 9:30 to 7:15 a.m., and Saturday’s scrimmage began at 9 a.m., two hours earlier than originally scheduled, to account for the heat.
Usually, the women soccer team’s practice schedule calls for them to meet twice a day. First they practice from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and again from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Head Coach Brian Blitz said that most of the fitness and teaching was accomplished during the morning practices, before the heat took its toll.
“You’re more aware intellectually,” Blitz said.
The afternoon practices, meanwhile, are devoted mostly to playing and scrimmaging, or “less thinking and more doing,” Blitz said.
Outside the MU campus, community sports also made some weather-related adjustments.
The Columbia Youth Football League, which held practices at Cosmo Park from 6. to 8 in the evenings, followed its heat policy, which has existed for many years. If the temperature exceeds 95 degrees, the players do not wear pads and helmets – only t-shirt and shorts. The heat index is also taken into consideration.
On Monday and Tuesday, players donned mostly t-shirt and shorts.
“We communicate with the parents extremely well,” said Chuck Everitt, president and commissioner of the league.
A telephone hotline, bulletins, and the league’s website kept players and their parents apprised of any changes to the practice schedule.
“These kids are real young, and we don’t want them to have heat exhaustion or heat stroke,” Everitt said.
Despite the sweltering temperatures, however, Everitt reported that last week’s attendance was great.