Anyone driving near Moriarty High School this week could not have missed the clusters of cross country runners sharing the roads.

For the first time in months, Moriarty’s boys’ and girls’ cross country squads are up and running, picking up where they left off when the New Mexico Activities Association pulled the plug on summer workouts in July due to Covid-19.

The team got back on track last week with a few days of exercises, conditioning, and short jogs around the football field.

“Nothing strenuous,” head coach Tommy Negrete said about the initial workouts. “Just getting them back into shape, basically running at 50 percent.”

But this week Negrete and his assistant coaches—Loren Riblett and Nicholas Arellano—had the runners ratchet their practices up a notch: Monday and Wednesday, the girls ran five miles and the boys legged out 6.2 miles; they hit the weight room on Tuesday and Thursday.

“We’re gonna keep them at it this week and next,” Negrete said, adding that they’ll also start running the Edgewood Middle School course.

“What our goal is,” Riblett added about running the extra mileage, “Is to make the 5K seem like a walk in the park.”

A typical 5K cross country course is 3.1 miles.

After posting his 6-plus miles on Monday, senior Ovedio “Dio” Lujan, who qualified for the Class 4A state championship meet last year, said nonchalantly, “Today was a usual Monday, a long-distance run.”

Lujan said he needs to eat more food to bulk up, adding, “But I feel good.”

Other runners trickled in from their long-distance treks, exhausted but excited.

“I feel like the first lap was OK, I just kept going,” senior Tessa Buck said about the two and a half mile loop the girls did twice: down the dirt road east of the campus, north to Martinez Road, west to First Street, south to the school’s Performing Arts Center and back to the gym.

“And then on the second lap, I was like, AAUGH!” she said, mimicking a head back, mouth open Charlie Brown-esque sound. “When you’re done, it hurts a lot, but then like, after a while, it feels real good.”

“I’m very, very tired but energized,” sophomore Kaisa-Tinuviel Baca said.

“That was probably my first six miles ever, like in a row,” junior David Vaquera said, adding that his legs felt like jelly. Vaquera typically juggles cross country and soccer this time of year, but he can now make cross his priority.

Unlike football and soccer—which the NMAA deemed “high risk” and postponed until February—cross country is one of the few fall sports considered to be “low-risk” and was given the green light to get underway in early October.

There are multiple new guidelines for cross country that affect both practices and meets, including runners wearing cloth face coverings, working in groups of five athletes per coach, and keeping everyone separated. “Social distancing I guess is what they want to call it,” Negrete said.

Negrete added that he liked how the runners completed their high-mileage practice runs. “They’re not fizzled out, they came in pretty strong,” he said.

Beyond the physical attributes of cross country—the building up mileage and endurance—Moriarty’s runners and coaches all attest to the emotional benefits as well.

“We’ve never had a crew where all the athletes and all the coaches are happy to be here, it’s pretty fun,” Riblett said.

“It feels really good, I feel really lucky to be able to be doing this sport this year,” freshman Evalinn Volk said.

“I’m glad my other teammates are back, it gives me something to push forward to and gets me hoping for meets in the future,” junior Henry Schuett said.

“I really love all the people that I get to make friends with,” Buck said. “I love the feeling that I get when I run because I feel a connection with nature and I just feel better about myself.”

“It’s hard work, but I love it,” Baca said. “It’s a great experience, and it’s a great way to have a connection with people in school, building teamwork and friendships.”