Q&A: Cross country coach Jill Miller speaks about training adjustments and team bonding amid COVID-19


Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Northwestern runners race down the track. Coach Jill Miller in a Q&A with The Daily said the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted her program’s practices and training regimens.

Charlotte Varnes, Reporter

Cross Country

Coach Jill Miller’s first year leading Northwestern’s cross country team ended abruptly as the NCAA canceled winter and spring sports in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the start date of the Big Ten’s cross country season still up in the air, Miller spoke to The Daily about her squad’s current training program for the 2020 season, whenever that may be.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

The Daily: What first went through your mind when you found out the Big Ten cancelled fall sports?

Miller: I won’t say that it really shocked me. It really made us pause, take a deep breath and analyze, ‘OK, with competition pulled off of the table, how do we create an experience for our student-athletes where they can grow?’

The Daily: With all this uncertainty, what is practice like now that there’s no real postseason or idea of when competition will come back?

Miller: I think our student-athletes really thrive with the weekly structure they were used to in years past, so practice doesn’t look much different, minus the masks and that we’re all six feet apart. The difference is, without preparing for a specific competition, we’ve dialed back some of the intensity of the work.

The Daily: How else are you following social distancing requirements?

Miller: We’re masked when we’re in groups. We even stay masked when we’re six feet apart from one another. That’s something that’s an adjustment for a lot of our athletes. We look at it as our version of altitude training. When we’re inside, we’re certainly much more cautious in terms of checking everybody’s symptoms, making sure we’re washing our hands regularly, sanitizing everything and really keeping our distance.

The Daily: What silver linings have you seen over the past few months?

Miller: We started really working on the mental side of the sport, and how we could not only be strong athletes, but use our minds to optimize that physical growth. We had more time and more space to connect on some topics that we possibly wouldn’t have if we were grinding through a competitive season. It’s also allowed us more time to discuss social issues and feel like we can be really impactful as a group.

The Daily: What is your mindset regarding the potential for NCAA postseason competition to be held in the spring?

Miller: We have to figure out a way that’s equitable across the country. If we’re talking about cross country in January through March, we have to think about weather and travel constraints there. If we’re thinking about an indoor track season, we have to think about health and safety being in a confined space with all those athletes. So, there are a lot of issues on the table we’re still working through.

The Daily: How are you conducting workouts with the possibility that you could be jumping into track or cross country?

Miller: We’re making sure to have a really well-rounded schedule to make sure that they’re strong aerobically, full of energy and feeling good in terms of mileage and intensity. I think it won’t be a situation where we’re told, ‘Okay, in one week you’re going to start racing track’ or, ‘In one week, you’re going to start racing cross country.’ We’ll have time to get more specific with the training when the decisions are made.

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Twitter: @charvarnes11

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