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Georgia runner Jessica Drop leads the pack during the 1500 meter run at the Spec Towns Track Invitational on Friday, April 5, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. Drop will return in 2021 to lead the Georgia track and field team's distance runners as a fifth-year. (Photo/Gabriella Audi, www.gabbyaudi10.wixsite.com/mysite-1)

After their brief, two-appearance cross country season, nearly all of Georgia’s distance runners have their sights set on the upcoming spring indoor and outdoor track seasons. 

As far as transitioning between the two sports, distance coach Patrick Cunniff and his athletes highlighted how cross country is a more strength-based sport involving aerobic development and heavier mileage, while track ups the intensity with increased paces. 

“Cross country is a really good way to get a strong base and then that kind of prepares us for track,” said senior Jessica Drop. “We start to change gears and start doing more speed on the track.”

On top of the differences in running style, the environment changes as well. Indoor track is a universal surface with a more controlled and stable environment, which Cunniff said can be inviting for runners as there are fewer surprises meet-to-meet. 

“The track is a little bit easier mentally … because cross country has so many variables,” Cunniff said. “It’s hill, it’s footing, it’s weather — it’s all those things.”

Georgia runners also described track as providing a different team atmosphere. Redshirt sophomore Sam Bowers said track was more self-oriented as athletes focus on the individual times they need to qualify for the NCAA championships. 

As Georgia track and field deals with these transitions head-on, Cunniff is confident the distance runners will have strong outings this spring. They’ve had more than nine months to train since their last track meet after COVID-19 canceled the outdoor track season earlier this year.

“I think we have some athletes… that are just going to be at a whole different level than anybody’s ever seen,” Cunniff said. “I think the jump in performances that we’re gonna see in our program is gonna be … both spectacular and a lot of fun.”

The indoor track season kicks off in Clemson, South Carolina, on Jan. 15 with the Clemson Invitational, followed by the outdoor track season beginning on March 9 with the Yellow Jacket Invitational in Atlanta.

“We’re just excited that we have these opportunities to race,” Drop said.  “We’re going to take every race as an opportunity and not take it for granted.”