FARGO — It’s not the running part that North Dakota State standout distance runner Kelby Anderson has been concerned about lately. She said she’s in top shape. It’s what’s running around in her mind.
There’s nobody in another color uniform to chase. Nobody to strategize against from the starting gun to the finish line.
“Obviously motivation gets to be lacking when you’re not competing,” Anderson said. “That’s the main part of the sport is the competitive nature. That’s been hard.”
To try and address the motivation, Bison coaches have been doing intrasquad cross country meets and time trials. The training is still as intense as ever, even with the Summit League moving all of its sports to the spring semester.
Yet to be determined is how the league is going to mesh a cross country season with the separate seasons of indoor and outdoor track and field. Anderson has no idea. NDSU head cross country and assistant track coach Andrew Carlson doesn’t know.
Anderson is the defending Summit cross country champion and is one of three Bison distance runners along with Annika Rotvold and Jen Dufner who are three of the best the school has had, much less being on the same team at the same time.
Where the conflict comes in is track, where Anderson won the Summit indoor 3,000 and 5,000 meters last year before the pandemic ended all spring sports. She won Summit outdoor titles in 2018 in the 1,500 and 10K.
Seemingly, about the only option for a cross country season would be in the winter, and brief at that. The NCAA will hold the men’s and women’s national championships on March 15, which is usually around the time of the national indoor meet.
“We have limitations on geography and how to make it work,” Carlson said. “My first inclination is it will be really tough. Literally you cannot hold a meet in North Dakota or South Dakota in February so maybe we figure out a way to get as south as we can? I don’t know.”
If she had to make a choice, Anderson said she would probably lean toward track, mainly because she’s only had a chance to compete in one Summit outdoor meet since coming to NDSU in the fall of 2017 from Bismarck High. Plus, she still has a redshirt season in cross country.
“It’s really nice having everyone come together for one big meet,” she said. “It’s pretty intense and cool how everybody comes together. It feels like I haven’t been able to compete in a long time.”
In the meantime, she’s running about 60 to 65 miles a week with long runs of around 13 to 14 miles. The volume is still up for both the Bison men and women, Carlson said, to properly train his runners for the track and field seasons.
It’s not having an official starting line that is getting old.
“It depends on the person,” he said. “What you try to do is set up an opportunity to train and compete, but at the same time you can tell it’s wearing on people not having a light at the end of the tunnel, to put on a uniform and go compete. Some days, kids are having a hard time motivating to run 14 miles; it’s not the easiest thing to do with no competition.”