September 9, 2020

Taking Part in Rec Department Cross Country Camp, PHS Runners Enjoyed 2 Weeks of Bonding, Training

FINDING THEIR STRIDE: A group of girl runners show their form at the Princeton Recreation Department cross country camp held in late August at Greenway Meadows Park. The coed program, run by Princeton High cross country head coach Jim Smirk, drew approximately 45 runners. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With its dirt trails, steep hills, and manicured soccer fields nestled in a bucolic setting off of Rosedale Road, the Greenway Meadows Park is a superb training venue for distance runners.

Over the last two weeks of August, the park was teeming with runners as the Princeton Recreation Department held a two-week cross country program run by Princeton High cross country head coach Jim Smirk.

“When we found out that we were unlikely to have a school sponsored preseason, we really felt like there was an opportunity for us to provide them with some quality training and face to face time,” said Smirk, noting that the fall season is still in doubt due to COVID-19 concerns.

“Our goal was to provide a safe training environment and  with the opportunity to reconnect with each other. Our team is so important to each other and we wanted to do that.”

The program drew approximately 45 runners, mainly from the PHS boys’ and girls’ cross country teams.

“The runners are all in slightly different places,” said Smirk, who was assisted by PHS track coach Ben Samara with former PHS with Rutgers standout distance runner Lou Mialhe serving as a counselor along with two of her Scarlet Knight teammates, Nadia Saponara and Chloe Wong.

“For our older runners, we were trying to provide them with leadership opportunities. A lot of this is athlete-run in the sense that they know the training plans from me. They send me back what their plan is to supplement that and then we talk about and they run it. We rotated who was in charge for our veterans.”

While Smirk was pleased with the conditioning displayed by the runners, he was happier by the camaraderie he saw over the two weeks.

“They all came in pretty good condition so I don’t think that that by itself wasn’t too much of a challenge,” added Smirk.

“We are not changing a whole lot. It is more strength work, it is more hill work and that is appropriate for this time of the season anyway. They certainly did a good job with that but I think more than anything, it was excitement seeing their teammates.”

PHS senior cross country star Jacob Bornstein were certainly excited to be reunited with his teammates.

“These two weeks are special to myself and the team,” said Bornstein.

“We were able to spend time together that we might not have this fall. A lot of us hadn’t seen each other in a really long time before the camp. The first week was really nice, just getting used to running together again. In the second week, we were used to it and it was a lot of fun. I am glad to be with my teammates.”

For Bornstein, the work at the camp proved to be a continuation of the plan he had been following.

“Coach Smirk gave us a training schedule to do during the pandemic when school was closed and for summer training,” said Bornstein.

“We have been doing a lot of the same stuff here as what we were doing on our own.”

Even if there is no cross country season for the Tigers, Bornstein is going to keep training on his own.

“Heading into senior year, training wise my goal is to do the best I can, take it each day at a time, and don’t worry about the season,” said Bornstein.

“It is just focus on training and doing all of the work that is required to become a successful runner. It makes me wake up early in the morning and get outside running. It is productive way to start the day.”

Another senior, PHS girls’ cross country veteran Emma Lips, saw the camp as a good way to renew bonds heading into the fall.

“It is honestly great to finally
get a time with my teammates again,” said Lips.

“We definitely miss each other a lot. It is fun to bond again and get the whole team together and just do running. It is what we love.”

Being together led to some good running for Lips and her teammates. “It has been a bit difficult for all of us because we haven’t been able to get together and train like normal,” said Lips.

“You have to figure out the training on your own. It was great to have two good weeks, get the habits set in, and put us back on the right track.”

Developing those habits will be beneficial no matter what happens this fall.

“If we don’t have a season, we will continue this good training together,” said Lips.

“It is just building a base layer and getting back into the running mindset. Once we do have a season, hopefully in the winter or spring, we will be good to go.”

In Smirk’s view, the camp helped his squad come together as everyone deals with the uncertainty of what this fall will look like athletically and otherwise.

“Cross country is a team sport, and developing that work ethic, that community, and all of that, comes from having even this short of an opportunity for two weeks,” said Smirk.

“We have had some great conversations with all levels — our veterans, our rising runners, and those trying to get on varsity. It has been a pleasure.”