Opposing coaches agree the Coahulla Creek, Murray County and Dalton boys squads are great at it.
Everyone agrees on the benefits.
Some local high school cross country runners and coaches have become experts on the science of “pack running,” which is running with a group of teammates to speed the team-wide times up and best take advantage of similar running styles and speeds. And all hope it helps Saturday at the state meets in Carrollton.
Both the boys and girls squads at Coahulla Creek and Northwest Whitfield, Dalton’s boys, Murray County’s boys and North Murray’s boys all have shots at team state championships, while Dalton’s Bekah Houston will compete as an individual in the Class 4A girls race.
Dalton and Northwest will also run in the Class 4A meets, with the boys starting at 8:30 a.m. and the girls at 9:15. Murray County’s boys will run next for the Class 2A title at 10. Coahulla Creek and North Murray will compete in the Class 3A meet, with the boys running at 2:30 p.m. and the girls at 3:15.
Murray County coach Sam Young said it is better to have times close together than spread apart, which makes pack running beneficial for any team.
“The closer you can get your runners together, the better your score is going to be,” said Young, whose boys finished second in the Region 7-2A meet with five runners in the top 15.
“It’s much better to have five all together in the top 30 than it is to have one speedster and everyone else far behind him.”
North Murray coach Matt Cham-bers also touted Dalton’s boys, the Region 7-4A champions, as pack runners and gave props to Cartersville and Coahulla Creek, which finished first and second in the Region 5-3A boys meet, for the same team-running technique. The Mountaineers finished fourth, led by individual champion Isaac Pacheco’s time of 16 minutes, 41 seconds.
That’s a pace most high school runners would have trouble keeping up with for long, though.
“Right now we’re in just such different areas of physical abilities that it’s impossible,” Chambers said. “Dalton and Murray County are really good at it. We raced (Coahulla Creek) once at region and from what I saw they do a pretty decent job of it. They weren’t packed together as much as Dalton or Cartersville but they’re pretty good at team running.”
Coahulla Creek coach Ben Williams said it is one of the driving forces behind his boys squad’s success. The Lady Colts finished third at region, with none of their five scorers finishing within 15 seconds of one another.
“Our guys are doing it,” Williams said. “Our girls are starting to do it. Some are grouping together pretty well. That’s been our varsity boys’ saving grace. They’ve progressed very tightly together.”
There are differing views on when pack running is the most effective. Some runners think it best to group together in the second mile of a 3-mile race. Some prefer to stay tight at the start of races and break apart for the final push.
“The second mile you’re going out and it’s tough,” said Shelby Wilson, who finished 15th place at region in 21:30 to lead the Lady Bruins to a fourth-place finish. “The first mile you’re still feeling strong and the third mile is the end.”
The Lady Bruins’ Natalie Williams finished 16th and just a second behind Wilson.
“If you can see someone pulling away in the second mile, then you can stay with them and you know you’ll push your speed,” she said.
Coahulla Creek’s and North Murray’s boys start pack running from the beginning of the race. J.V. Villareal led the Colts with a seventh-place finish at 17:54 in last week’s region meet. The other runners who scored for Coahulla Creek — Missael Fraire (ninth, 18:06), Caleb Carlson (10th, 18:12), Sadoth Fraire (12th, 18:30) and Blake Phillips (13th, 18:33) — were all close behind.
“How we start off is close to each other,” Missael Fraire said. “We keep close the whole race until the third mile.”
As for North Murray’s boys, while Chambers know Pacheco won’t have teammates with him very long, he wants as many runners as possible to stick together in the early stages of a race. The field is often tightly packed when the starter’s gun goes off at large meets, so having a barrier of teammates is helpful.
“I encourage my boys to at least stay together at the beginning,” Chambers said. “That’s when they are passing, pushing and tripping. If you can stay together, then you can protect one another. At the end of the race, I’d like for them to go all out.”
It often requires similar runners with similar times, too. Someone with a time in the 17-minute range does no good holding back with someone who usually runs in the 19-minute range. If a team has runners with varying times, then it makes it impossible to use the technique.
Northwest coach Tom Sell mentioned Dalton as one of the best at pack running because of how close the runners’ times are.
“I think in Dalton’s case, they say, ‘We’re all going to stick together,” he said. “In our case, I can’t do that. We have three in the low 17s and three or four more in the mid-18s.”
Dalton’s boys team is admittedly fortunate. Francisco Perez finished seventh in 17:32 and Brandon Pineda (eighth; 17:37) and Anthony Hernandez (ninth; 17:40) followed.
“If you have the fastest runner, that is nice, but if everyone else is spread out, it hurts you,” Dalton coach Karen Galyon said. “It is nice to have first, but if you have five, six, seven all coming in right on top of each other, that is where you have an advantage.”
Northwest’s boys finished third in the region led by twins Brody and Parker Cook, who finished fourth and fifth at 17:18 and 17:19.
“Pack running usually works a lot better with the top four,” Sell said. “Our guys usually have a healthy competition to see who can get those spots. ... They’re so used to running neck and neck that it transfers over.”
For Murray County, Servio Martinez finished sixth at region in 18:12. Martin Conteras finished 11th at 18:45, and Ivan Delgado (12th, 18:51), Jose Ruiz (14th, 19:03) and Filiberto Munez (15th, 19:04) followed.
“They run pretty much together as a group,” Young said. “It turns into a competitive environment to push each other and get more points. It is a push for everyone else where the faster your top guy can go brings along the rest. It is just like NASCAR with drafting, and my guys know that. By this time of year, they know where they fall and where they stand, and they are either pushing or pulling other runners.”
It doesn’t help if there are no teammates to run with. That is the task Houston faces on Saturday, running as an individual after finishing fifth in 19:58 to qualify for state. The Lady Cats finished fifth as a team, one place shy of the required showing to advance as a group.
“That makes it hard when you are at a level like state, but she has competed with the (Heritage-Catoosa) girls and a lot of the other top girls, and they are used to running near each other in a race,” Galyon said. “She knows who to pace off of because they know each other and are so used to running with each other. At state, you would want your team there, but she runs with those good girls at the top, so she will have her own pack she is competing with.”
Houston plans to do just that.
“A few teams from the region have offered to let me warm up, and it is the best competition, so I will try to pace off of them,” Houston said. “It is easier because all I have to worry about is myself, but not having a team there is hard. It is more fun supporting each other.”
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