August 14, 2013 9:33:46 PM
STARKVILLE - Mississippi State University cross country coach Houston Franks understands his athletes are a little bit different mentally and it's intentionally.
"There's no question about that - we're real different," Franks says with a laugh. "It takes a special individual to want to like to do this and a lot of kids coming out of high school don't make it. It's a pretty monotonous, overuse sport on your body. Distance running basically comes down to who can get the fittest and who can endure the most pain."
While a lot of fans will point to a college football player as the toughest athlete or the most conditioned to endure pain, the folks in the cross country circuit always like to have time for rebuttal. Franks detailed Monday this summer he is asking his men's cross country runners to 105-110 miles a week and his women's team members are being required to run 75-80 miles a week.
"The word 'jog' is a nasty word in our sport because you say that word and you'll have 40 runners here turn and say 'we don't jog here, we run'," Franks said. "For runners you have possibly a cross country season, a indoor season and then a outdoor season so you're racing all the time," Franks said. "The only time you're not racing in the summer and that's when I'm asking you to do the hardest training and most miles in the year."
Franks claimed in a season-opening media event that he nearly promises each of his athletes that they'll get injured and have nagging health concerns that go along with the sport through the course of their career.
"You don't have 250-pound linebacker trying to take your head off and people see these nerdy, skinny kids and they're the toughest athletes on this campus," Franks said. "Think about it this way, what other sport are they asking you to run through excruciating pain for 30 straight minutes."
MSU will open up the cross country schedule on Aug. 30 at the Memphis Twilight in Memphis, Tenn., where they'll run starting at night in a tight course. Both of the MSU men's and women's squads were predicted to finish 11th in the 14-team Southeastern Conference.
"Preseason polls are fine to look at, but no one really knows what anybody else has yet," Franks said. "We have higher expectations than where we're predicted, so we'll find out in November. I'm pretty excited about what we have on both sides."
On the women's side, MSU had four of the top five women post their quickest times of the season at the NCAA South Regional meet at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Fla. The Lady Bulldogs captured the ninth-place spot, totaling 328 points.
With returning veterans Katie Huston and Cornelia Griesche, coupled with anticipated newcomers Rhian Price and Lisa Ziegler, the women's side have a lot to look forward to for the 2013 season.
The MSU men only have to replace three senior runners from the 2012 roster and are coming off a NCAA South Regional meet where they finished fifth and return four runners from that performance that tied the school's highest NCAA finish.
Juan Sanchez, Cameron Vernier, John Valentine, Curtis Kelly and Philip Johnson will look to lead a very veteran MSU squad.
"I can't think of a time in the last few years that our athletes have come back to school in really bad shape, relatively speaking," Franks said. "The neat thing about the men's team is of the six meets we had four different guys be our number one runner. There's a lot of depth there."