Jefferson Cross Country students attend limited practices


Ananya Bagai

Members of the Jefferson cross country team run on campus during an afternoon October meet. Phase 3 practices kept members in shape during the pandemic. “It’s good motivation to be running two times a week since it’s really hard to find time to do workouts,” Junior Erin Tran said.

Neeharika Valanki, Staff Writer

The recently initiated Phase 3 practices provide an opportunity for returning and new cross country members to exercise during the ongoing pandemic. By following the county’s guidelines, they maintain a safe environment while working out. However, Phase 3 practices still pose a challenge to athletes when it comes to building connections.  

Despite the limitations that the current global pandemic brings, the cross country team at Jefferson continues to train this fall, but not the way they used to. Sophomore Emma Cox, who is new to cross country, sees the struggles of building team spirit firsthand during the most recent practice she went to. 

“There was definitely a lot less social interaction. You can still talk with people from a distance, but especially when you’re running, it’s a lot harder to keep that distance and chat,” Cox said.

Cross country practices have a very different atmosphere in recent meets. Participants are required to stand apart in rows during exercises in a gridlike fashion, and it can be isolating.

“I feel bad for the freshmen this year,” junior Erin Tran said, “because what they’re experiencing right now is not a typical cross country practice. It’s not what cross country practices are supposed to be like, or what they used to be like. I hope that freshmen don’t quit because they think that this isn’t as fun of a practice as it used to be.” 

Communication is not the only issue that COVID brings. Since Fairfax County (FCPS) currently does not allow students to train off-campus, spots are limited for those who can attend practice.  

“One‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌protocols‌ ‌is‌ ‌we‌ ‌can‌ ‌only‌ ‌have‌ ‌10‌ ‌people,‌ ‌nine‌ ‌per‌ ‌coach.‌ ‌We‌ ‌send‌ ‌out‌ ‌a‌ 
Google‌ ‌form‌ ‌to‌ ‌all‌ ‌participants‌ ‌that‌ ‌are‌ ‌interested‌ ‌in‌ ‌cross‌ ‌country‌ ‌and‌ ‌track.‌ ‌But‌ ‌once‌ ‌we‌ ‌put‌ ‌out‌ 
the‌ ‌signup‌ ‌form,‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌really‌ ‌a‌ ‌first‌ ‌come‌ ‌first‌ ‌serve‌ ‌basis,”‌ ‌Head‌ ‌Coach‌ ‌Todd‌ ‌Withington‌ ‌said.‌

The number of practices are limited as well to prevent the spread of COVID. Even so, coaches are working within county guidelines to provide the opportunities the team needs. They are holding a high standard of safety to everyone who attends.

“Right now, we’re just doing two workouts per week: Saturday mornings and Monday afternoons. [The limited workouts] fall under one of those protocols that the county has put forth. All the kids have to stay in their cars while the athletic trainer from TJ takes their temperature and they fill out a questionnaire,” Withington said. “If their temperature is high and they’re carpooled with anybody, that whole carpool is sent home.” 

With precautionary measures in place, the team continues to work to maintain their fitness. However, some members speculate that this cross country season may not provide as many opportunities as in years past.

“My coach told me that there’s going to be a lot less participants, which is going to be interesting, especially because TJ is in such a ‘bad sports district.’ I think [qualifying for] competitions is going to be harder because it’s based off of placement instead of times,” Tran said. “Since TJ isn’t the best at sports, we’re probably not going to make it to states this year, just because all of the good people will automatically qualify.”

Even with the limitations of the current situation, students are looking forward to being back in action and working out during this year’s cross country season. 

“I do think [the practices] are still beneficial, because you get to see your friends, and you get to socialize and meet the freshmen,” Tran said. “It’s a lot easier to run when you’re running with someone else. They’re a source of motivation.”