In weeks like this, Regan Weidner embraces a paradox.
In order to maximize her potential in cross country, a sport that demands athletes push themselves right up against their threshold of pain, the Bureau Valley sophomore spends the week getting as comfortable as everyday life will allow.
"We take it down a lot and pretty much rest this week," said Weidner, whose training plan called for a rest day on Wednesday.
But the physical aspect is only part of the process.
About a dozen years ago, BV coach Dale Donner learned about visualization during a clinic in Iowa. About a half-dozen years ago, he started recording CDs that feature his voice over soothing, ambient music for his runners to listen to leading up to regional, sectional and state meets.
While artists like Yanni help Storm runners relax – often to the point they fall asleep – Donner breaks down everything his athletes need to think about from the time they get out of bed on raceday eve until they reach the chute Saturday morning. He asks them what they'll pack, what they'll eat, what they'll say when peers say, "Good luck," and offers mile-by-mile insight.
"It lays out the groundwork for what's going to happen leading up to the race," Donner said. "And then you have a plan. Then we've written a script, and just have to follow it."
"It's very comforting," Weidner said.
After placing 21st in Class 1A last November, Weidner hopes to crack the top 10 and 18 minutes.
"Hopefully by a good 15 seconds, at least," she said.
Donner points to the Storm girls' runner-up finish in the 3,200-meter relay at the 2006 state track meet as all the evidence he needed that the visualization worked.
"We found a huge mental difference with the kids," Donner said. "We found they were more focused and able to relax before the race."
The athletes construct a "comfort room," complete with their choice of furniture and decor, where they can go when it's tough to stay calm.
"They can get away from the pressure," Donner said.
Weidner has also built a mental catalogue of the top 20 or so runners in the state.
"I know who I want to be around and who I want to see as I'm running," Weidner said. "I know what they look like. I've talked to them."
That is, except for one or two runners, according to Donner.
"We will acquaint ourselves with who they are as we're walking to the line," he said.
Just as Donner was about to urge Weidner to get off the starting line faster this year, she beat him to the punch. The relatively flat course at Detweiller Park will lend to a fast start, which Weidner didn't get a year ago.
"I started out really far back and had to work my way up," Weidner said.
She calls running in a tunnel of people at the state meet "a huge adrenaline rush." Because of that sensation, there will be a select few runners who will open the throttle way too quickly.
Those few aren't in Weidner's catalogue.
"You're going to have people who want to have their minute of sunshine," Donner said. "They'll go out and take the lead, and you have to know, 'That's not someone I need to worry about.' "
Weidner first got into cross country in the eighth grade, and quickly found herself running extra miles when she got home from practice.
Now she can't visualize life without running.
"I don't think I could ever stop," Weidner said.
When: Saturday – 1A girls, 9 a.m.; 1A boys, 10 a.m.; 2A girls, 11 a.m.; 2A boys, noon
Where: Detweiller Park, Peoria
Inside: SVM scouts 2012 state meet