The “indoor” portion of indoor track usually prevents outdoor elements from becoming an overwhelming factor when it comes to scheduling meets — that’s why indoor takes place in winter. But amid the unrelenting coronavirus pandemic, indoor track and field has become yet another victim. Anne Arundel County “indoor” track athletes have yet to run a county-sponsored meet inside.
The latest blow to the season came with the cancellation of the county championships. The decision was made due to a mix of weather, scheduling and location issues.
“We have exhausted every option we can asking anyone within a two-hour radius, ‘Can we use your facility?’” county cross country and track sports commissioner Brianna Bostic said. “Everybody’s booked up.”
The county successfully put on three outdoor meets for teams throughout the season already: Dec. 11 and 16 and Jan. 19. The Jan. 19 date was supposed to be the county championship and instead was a 12-team regular-season event at Severna Park. A meet set for Dec. 28 was lost as its original location was Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex.
Every Anne Arundel County indoor track coach and official has become part weather forecaster and part promoter along with their typical duties.
When it’s cold outside, athletes need to warm up over and over again, but careful! Not too much, or they’ll overexert themselves. Very cold outside? Can’t run a six-hour meet. Poles could snap, not real safe.
Coaches, athletic directors and the county office of athletics are doing whatever they can to get their runners running — especially after losing an entire season already.
“Swimmers have been able to be in their pools. Wrestlers have been able to wrestle. Basketball has been able to play,” county coordinator of athletics Clayton Culp said. “So, it’s tough for track to be on a little bit of an island right now.”
Broadneck coach Josh Webster had a feeling it would be like this. He and several coaches, such as Old Mill’s Justin Murdock and Chesapeake’s Jim Beatty, predicted trouble landing spots indoors long before the season’s start in emails to The Capital. Webster’s team is one of a handful with actual indoor experience this winter but only because they booked a spot at an inter-county meet at Hagerstown Community College.
“I’ve coached a bunch of different sports in my life,” Webster said, “and this is by far the most challenging [season].”
‘Doing the best we can’
No one minded running outside as much in December’s unseasonably warm temperatures. The icy brisk of January they don’t enjoy so much. Sweatpants-and-long-sleeves-clad, the teams hold some practices outside. Some teams, like Broadneck, don’t bother risking catching the coronavirus for indoor training, so they task their athletes with homework.
“It’s definitely different than any seasons we’ve gone through so far. We face a lot of adversity,” Broadneck senior Ayden Wheless said. “During the winter, it’s kind of weird trying to run and keep your body healthy and not get sick when it’s extremely cold outside. But we’re doing the best we can.”
Chesapeake senior Bailey Healy was surprised by how much her lungs hurt when she ran the 500 meters in a meet.
“I could not catch my breath. The wind chill [was] just awful,” she said. “You’re able to handle a lot more when it’s warmer outside, but I just feel like our times aren’t accurate from running in the cold.”
Because of frigid temps and often-realized threats of snow and ice, meets are slated for the early afternoon.
Bostic calls each school to get approval to pull the track athletes out of class after lunch. That part’s actually been the easiest; Bostic said associate superintendent of schools Dawn Lucarelli has been helpful in the process.
Still, a county-wide meet slated for Jan. 8 got the axe because of weather. Whatever energy athletes, teams expended preparing for that day dissipated with it.
The county championship suffered a similar fate. The county initially pinned a couple of dates at the end of last week and early this week that could be potentially held at college indoor facilities. None could be secured.
As for becoming promoters, Anne Arundel County does not have an indoor track facility. The Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex, which serves as the typical facility teams are used to running in, is closed. The facility has been utilized as a mass COVID-19 vaccination site for more than a year.
In the fall, Culp thought they’d be able to get runners in Prince George’s by mid-December but were turned away.
As such, those running indoor track spend time calling various facilities across Maryland and Washington, D.C. — college sites such as University of Maryland Easton Shore or Harford Community College or other sites such as Snow Hill or the Baltimore Armory — hunting for a place to host a meet.
The Naval Academy called Bostic and Culp on Tuesday with a strong “no,” citing that if it let Anne Arundel runners through its doors, it would have to allow everyone. Just getting an answer was a sort of relief to Bostic; they’d been asking the academy for more than five years.
No options are easy. UMES is a two-hour drive, at least, for the schools, tacked on to an already five-to-six-hour event. Same for HCC.
The same sites were potential sites for the county championships. Per Bostic, UMES agreed to be rented, but the two available days were untenable. Saturday was forecast for snow and the next was a date for the regional championships, which will be held Saturday at Hagerstown Community College and Feb. 9, 11 and 15 at the Baltimore Armory. All indoor, an experience almost no one has had.
‘Light at the end of the tunnel’
Every targeted day for the county championship will not likely climb above 35 degrees. Holding meets in those temperatures carries health and safety risks. There’s the possibility of fiberglass vault poles snapping to consider. Jumpers and runners are more likely to pull hamstrings or strain calves on a colder day.
“Your body’s trying to keep warm, so the blood flow is going to be less to the extremities, which is why everything’s stiffening up,” said longtime athletic trainer Kelley Crowe, who now works at Archbishop Spalding. “Those types of injuries are pretty common.”
Crowe worried over the safety of holding indoor track in freezing temperatures with other athletic trainers before the season’s start. They ultimately agreed that so long as proper precautions were taken, it could go OK. Crowe fared well at Spalding; no season-ending injuries occurred, only a few minor strains.
But the precautions are taxing. Athletes must remember to drink water, despite the cold, and dress warmly. Along with weather monitoring, there must be rewarming periods. Between 25 to 35 degrees, athletes can be out for an hour but must return inside for 15 minutes. That outdoor-indoor ratio changes as it gets colder. It was easier in most cases just to postpone or cancel meets.
Track athletes are different from those in other winter sports, Webster said. Unlike basketball, track doesn’t need to win a certain number of games. Results aren’t measured week to week.
“The only meets that matter are counties, regions or states. The rest are practice,” Webster said. One of those is now off the table.
That’s not to say the date of the championships doesn’t matter, Webster said. Runners must plan their pinnacle physique for that date. Webster knows more seasoned runners can be ready regardless, but not everyone is at that rate.
Webster advises his Bruins to think of all of this as practice. All of this is about getting the potential best of yourself, hopefully, refined by the time states roll around.
It’s still hard to swallow. Chesapeake junior Tina Tinelli views this “indoor” season as simply preparation for outdoor track.
“It’s definitely been harder to think I’m not really working towards anything,” Tinelli said, “because our hopes just get let down every time our meets get canceled. At the same time, we really can’t expect anything else with COVID.”
It dawned on her teammate, senior Megan Miller, that the underclassmen don’t really know what their sport is. The tightly packed arenas, the frenzied cheering. Some underclassmen haven’t even been able to attend every meet, few as they’ve been.
“It’s frustrating because we want everyone to get the race feeling,” Miller said. “It feels so good that people cheer you on.”
Chesapeake track had just finished its runoff to determine times within the team for counties when they heard.
“When we found out, it was heartbreaking,” Miller said. “But at the same time, we still have regions to look forward to. There’s some light at the end of the tunnel.”
That light seems a little more distant for others. Healy doesn’t feel sure regions will happen. That’d just leave states.
“Two years ago, when stuff got canceled, we weren’t thinking we’d still be dealing with these issues [now],” she said. “We’ve been told every two weeks, there’s a meet coming up and then days before, it’s canceled. To be constantly disappointed like that, it’s definitely frustrating.”