Cross Country Set to Compete in Regionals on Home Course


Jazmine Knight

Photo of the finish line at the Tom Rutledge Cross Country Course

Cross country season is slowly coming to an end meaning no more running 100 miles per week for those runners. 

Two weeks ago, Missouri Southern’s cross country team competed on their home course for conference. The men’s team came in first overall with Gidieon Kimutai and Ryan Riddle taking first and second place. JP Rutledge finished shortly behind them in sixth place. 

The women’s team placed sixth overall. Some of the top finishers included Lilah Genal in 14th, Kayanna Gaines in 17th and Kelie Henderson in 28th.

I got the opportunity to speak with majority of these top finishers to get insight about their cross country career and how they are preparing for the upcoming regional and national meet. 

I started the interviews with “what made you get into cross country.” Most responses included the culture and atmosphere their teammates bring. Others focused on their passion for running after discovering the sport. 

However, to senior JP Rutledge, cross country has a deeper meaning. He actually started the cross country program at his high school. When he saw many of his friends competing in cross country meets and how much it paid off, he decided to join a cross country club based out of Kansas City his junior and senior year. He also got the opportunity to compete with a neighboring school for cross country. 

“Your board has to approve of it. I went and spoke in front of the school board and basically we got the cross country program started at my school. Now, we actually have like a full men’s and women’s team.”

In regard to MSSU’s preparation for regionals, not much has changed. Senior Kelie Henderson mentions that “we are just working on speed… [and] we actually got to sleep in the mornings,” compared to their early morning practices. 

According to sophomore Kayanna Gaines, during “conference week it’ll probably be like 50 miles,” that they run. 

Despite the already tiring practice schedule, this year is a festival year meaning that the cross country season is 2 weeks longer compared to the normal season. This is to ensure “all the national meets are within a 2 week period,” as reported by Henderson. 

For personal pre-meet rituals, some runners have a favorite breakfast. For example, Gaines says she eats a banana with peanut butter the morning of the race. Rutledge likes to eat chicken or fish paired with a vegetable and rice for lunch the day prior. For dinner, he always has spaghetti “just to get those extra carbs in.”

As far as sleep, Henderson says that 2 nights before the day of the race is the most important night for sleep… I try to get 8-9 hours of sleep and I always try to get 8 hours of sleep the night before the race.”

Next, I asked how the runners felt going into regionals. Are you confident? Nervous?

Senior Ryan Riddle said “you’re always a little nervous… [but] at the end of the day, it’s just running. For me, I don’t really try to change anything. I am the defending champion for a reason. So I guess there’s a little pressure to do well but I’m just looking forward to it. We have a really good shot winning as a team.”

When it comes to visualizing the race, some runners like to turn their mind off and just go through the motions like senior Gidieon Kimutai. “I just get focused, just go with the flow. Having teammates around you and the competition around you wherever the race gets started helps you to be in a good position.” 

Overall like every team, cross country faces the occasional injuries and the mental battles. Rutledge also went into detail about some personal challenges he faces while being a senior. “ I’ve had to decide a lot about what I want to do next with my life. It’s hard to do because you want to put all your attention into running but you also got to put attention into your future because running is not going to last forever.”

Coach Jamie Burnham is also a huge attribute to the team’s success. He has been the cross country coach at Missouri Southern for 33 years. He said it all started when “I graduated college… there was an article in the paper that they were going to start a program here. So I actually came and met with the head track coach, [Tom] Rutledge and he said ‘I can’t pay you, but I’ll take your help.’ I stuck around and they didn’t get rid of me.”

One benefit Coach Burnham sees going into regionals is that “we’re hosting the regional meet and the environment is comfortable for them… it’s more beneficial than any speech that I could give. They shouldn’t feel out of their comfort zone as far as where we’re at and what we are going to try to do.” 

For the upcoming regional meet, there will be some new freshmen competing. From personal experience, I know competing while being a freshman is intimidating. However, coach Burnham and other teammates are confident that they can still run impressive times. 

Burnham stated that “we’ve got really good upperclassmen and [the freshman] definitely learned from them… I think that they are as prepared as anybody can be as a freshman. I was shocked.”

Coming from teammate JP Rutledge, he advises freshmen to stay consistent and not change anything. “Be confident that you can go to a national race… it’s just another race [and] I want to do what I’ve been doing all year. Trust that I’m fit enough [and] that it’s going to carry me through this race. Don’t try to change stuff up last minute.” 

Luckily, MSSU students can watch cross country compete this weekend (Nov 19) on the Tom Rutledge cross country course (north of the North End Zone facility). Those who qualify will move on to the national meet in Seattle, Washington to complete their season.