Hood River Valley High School’s cross country team hits the ground running this week as it travels to Wilsonville for the first meet of the season. Much of team, led by longtime coach Kristen Uhler, has been training regularly through the summer to stay in shape and be ready for what is expected to be a solid season for both boys and girls squads.
Friday’s Wilsonville Night Meet is known to be a tough competition and brings several big school teams from the Portland metro area. For those who have been running all summer, the 3K race serves as a baseline measurement to train from the rest of the season; for those who have not, it will also serve as a lung-burning wakeup call.
“It’ll be a reality check for those who may have been a little lazy this summer,” Uhler said. “Each runner is on a progression in their running career. They earn the right to do the hard workouts where, instead of being a punishment, running is a privilege. To complete the level-one workout they must have put in the time and work.
“We’re looking forward to a great season. The team is deep in talent on both the boys and girls sides. We’re a young team, but we have a lot of runners who are looking really good.”
To jump-start the season, 33 runners attended the team’s annual Cloud Cap training camp last week. During the three-day camp, runners and coaches sleep at Cloud Cap Inn and train on high-altitude roads and trails in the area.
“It’s always a great team-bonding experience to start the season,” said Uhler. “As coaches, it’s great because we get a captive audience for three days. For the athletes, it helps build confidence from completing difficult workouts.”
Workouts included a 9-mile run the first day, up the access road to Cloud Cap Inn. The second day was a “CamelBack-required” 13-mile Paradise Park loop at about 8,600 feet near Timberline Lodge. The third day was the Tilly Jane Time Trial, with runners broken into teams and scored like a cross country race.
“Both the boys and girls teams look good; we have much more depth than we’ve had in recent years,” said Uhler, who has been coaching the team for close to 30 years. “We have great depth with the boys, but they’re a young team so it may be a year or two before they are strong on the state level. The girls finished as district champions and seventh at state last year. Our goal is another district title and top five –– or even three –– at state.”
Uhler gives credit to the new middle school cross country program as a major factor in the young talent the high school is seeing. The combination Wy’east and Hood River Middle School team, coached by Steve Wrye, is only a couple years old but is already producing results for the high school program.
“We’re starting to see freshmen who already have running experience and know how to train,” Uhler said. “That’s going to be a huge factor in the future of the team.”
Uhler is joined by assistant coach Steve Notebook, who has been with the cross country team for three seasons and returns this winter as boys varsity basketball coach.
Uhler’s coaching (and personal) philosophy follows the, “once a runner, always a runner” motto. In her early days of coaching, Uhler worked as a substitute teacher at HRVHS so she could train and compete as a professional triathlete.
Today, Uhler’s passion for fitness and running is obvious in her dedication as a coach.
“The sport teaches lessons that kids will use for the rest of their lives; how to challenge themselves, to set goals, to train properly and to take care of their bodies. I don’t know what’s more important than that.”