AURORA — Cross training has long been known as a way for athletes to improve their performance in sports.
Does participating in two sports at the same time do the same thing?
Cross country runner and swimmer Mesabi East’s Lydia Skelton believes it does.
“It doesn’t take away from running, but it gets your mind off of running so when you go back to running you’re refreshed and ready to go on another run.
By the end of the fall sports season, Skelton ran her way to third place at the Section 7A Cross Country Meet.
For her highly successful season, the Mesabi East senior has been named the All-Iron Range Cross Country Runner of the Year by the Mesabi Tribune and the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.
In addition to her success in cross country, Skelton finished the swim season with a section championship in the 100 yard freestyle and was a part of two section champion relay teams.
In order to ensure success in both sports, Skelton was often both running and swimming during her summer training regimen.
“I trained way harder this summer than I did in the past. I ran a lot more, but at the same time I was swimming.’’
A typical workout (about four times per week) included swimming for 1-2 hours and then going on runs with her friends or family.
She also added in the G.U.T.S. (Get Up Train Smart) program developed by Mesabi East Area Nordic Skiing head coach Cheri Johnson. That included running the trails at Giants Ridge, triathlons, yoga, time trials, and longer bike rides.
“I think swimming helps me in running. I’ve never really just ran. I’ve always swam and ran, except for in track season. I think if I swam while I was training for track I think I would do better. My cross country coaches have asked me why I don’t just run, but I honestly think I need to swim in order to run.’’
The season was changed dramatically due to COVID-19 restrictions, as were the cross country meets. That meant the meets were most often held in three heats with limited teams participating. The result was not always running against the best runners because they might be in another heat.
“It was kind of upsetting not having the larger meets like the (Milaca) Mega Meet or all the bigger invitationals. I kind of just had to accept it. I didn’t have any other choice. So I just tried to make the best out of it.,’’ Skelton said.
“It’s a whole different atmosphere,’’ Ekman said of not getting the final results until all three heats were complete.
How did she motivate herself no matter who was in the race?
“I had to keep on reminding myself there was someone after me. Even if they ran before us we wouldn’t know the time of the fastest runner. Mentally you had to say they are right behind you or right in front of you.’’
Coach Steve Ekman and his coaching staff also helped Skelton adjust to heat racing.
“The coaches during the races they were always motivating and trying to get us to do our best. They reminded us who was going to be there so we usually had an idea how fast they were and who was coming for us.’’
“I think she was really good at knowing her pace and knowing her abilities,’’ Ekman said. *She is good at judging where she is in a race. She was really good at knowing how to run and how hard to run. That is a quality that takes a little bit of time to develop.’’
“She’s really adapted to it well,’’ he said later. “It’s a gift to have that knowledge and that intuition on how hard you should be pushing.’’
Skelton’s parents Brenda and Chad played a key role in her athletics, as well.
“They know that I have a strict schedule. If I have a meet the next day, I have to be in bed at a certain time or I have to eat this or I have to have this done before whatever time. So they are always helping me.’’
Her diet is just one area where her mom gives her assistance.
“Every morning I have to eat oatmeal. My mom is always making oatmeal and always talking to me about my races. They’re always encouraging me to do my best.’’
How difficult is it to stay on a schedule like that as a high school student?
“It’s hard but it’s worth it,’’ she said.
Skelton is now considering her options for college, both academically and athletically.
“I’m thinking I’m going to be running. I’m still undecided’’ between Nordic skiing or cross country running.
The schools at the top of her list are St. Cloud State University or the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. She’s undecided on her field of study also.
In the back of her mind, Skelton is also wondering what focusing just on one sport will mean to her success level.
“It will be interesting if I run what it will be like without swimming.’’
Various schools have contacted Skelton and she is still considering her options. “I just have to make some decisions,’’ she stated.
“She still has a lot of potential left in her,’’ Ekman said about possibly running in college. “She’ll have a lot of success I think.’’
Thinking back on her high school sports career, Skelton credited Ekman and Johnson for her cross country success.
“They were the ones that really got me into running.’’
She was in the G.U.T.S. program before her sophomore season and the coaches really encouraged her to join the cross country team after she ran some 5K races. That was never her plan because she just figured she would cross train for swimming.
Joining cross country was the right way to go, she added.
“It was a good decision. I’m glad I joined.’’
In addition to Lydia Skelton, the All-Iron Cross Country Team includes the following: Aubree Skelton of Mesabi East; Liz Nelson and Kate Nelson of Mountain Iron-Buhl, Zoe Devine of Ely, Alex Wercinski of Virginia, Aune Boben of Hibbing; Emma Lampaa of Virginia; Phoebe Helms of Ely; Jocelyn Strukel of Hibbing.