“I'm all about nurturing athletes who thrive on and off the trails,” Mary Churchill, head coach of the cross country team, says warmly. “I firmly believe in creating exceptional runners and lifelong athletes who understand the importance of their physical and emotional well-being.” That much is evident to the casual observer who watches Mary and co-coach Mark Churchill spend the first 15 minutes of each session checking in with their runners, allowing them to share how they're doing physically and emotionally before making any training adjustments tailored around each of their specific needs.
It’s a coaching skill that comes from experienced and accomplished runners. Mark was a highly decorated multi-sport high school athlete and former Division 1 college runner. Mary has competed internationally and represented the US in World Championships during her days as a competitive runner. To this day, both are highly active, with Mark qualifying for this year’s Boston Marathon and Mary regularly competing in marathons and 100-mile races.
Building a solid team where each member values showing up, putting in the work even when nobody's watching, and embracing the camaraderie that turns teammates into family is a big point of emphasis for both coaches who have been with the team for over five years.
As the season quickly approaches, the team has its collective eyes, heart, and mind set on a top-four finish for the women’s team, while the men’s team is aiming for a top-three ranking. Beyond team placement, success is also about personal progress. “Most of our runners can trim 15 to 30 seconds per season from their 5k pace,” Coach Mary Churchill says confidently. “Beyond numbers, I see each season as an opportunity for runners to enhance their race strategies and leadership skills.”
The team's success relies upon each runner improving this season—a tall ask, considering the competitive field our runners face weekly. “As coaches,” explains Mark Churchill, “we're strategically focused on encouraging each runner to bridge the distance between themselves and the one just ahead. By doing so, we're driving home the significance of team unity, a vital ingredient in the cross-country recipe."
The team's unity and togetherness are at an all-time high after returning from a four-day Lake Mammoth camp before the start of school. They continue building on that trip by taking full advantage of the beautiful hilly terrain across our 515-acre campus, which Mary describes as a “runner's paradise.” Access to miles of trails, elevation changes, technical routes, flat roads, and a spectacular pool are better than any in the area at the high school and college level.
The setting is a cornerstone for fostering a team culture that's far more than a mere catchphrase; it's the essence of their approach. Anyone familiar with the cross-country community acknowledges that it is an inclusive environment that welcomes novice and experienced runners alike. “By starting slow and celebrating every milestone, we nurture a sense of accomplishment that transcends the track. Team dinners, outings, and family bonding sessions are the glue that binds us,” Mark says as he reflects on his running experience.
Although first, second, and third-place finishes are quantifiable ways to determine success in the history books, Mark and Mary are equally focused on helping our student-athletes find themselves, push their limits, and emerge stronger. “Together, we're not just chasing goals,” they tell us. “We're shaping resilient individuals ready to conquer life's challenges.”