The key to Spalding's recent domination of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association in boys' cross-country is not just the Cavaliers team. It's also the club.
The 500 Club. It's the building block upon which Spalding created an MIAA A Conference championship team last year and the reason the Cavaliers might win that title again this season.
The concept of the club is simple: Every member of the Spalding varsity cross-country team tries to log 500 miles of running between Memorial Day and Labor Day, an average of more than 5 miles per day.
The results have been impressive: For the second consecutive season, Spalding runners reported to practice with improved endurance. During time trials last week, most of the team's top 10 runners improved their times from last year.
"We put in more mileage than anybody during the summer and it pays off big during the year," said junior Rob Wetzel, who with junior Chris Moody forms the team's top tandem. "When you're running that much during the summer, you come into the season and it's like, 'Oh, this is easy.' "
Wetzel ran between 70 and 75 miles each week toward the end of the summer. By Labor Day, he will have exceeded the 500 Club requirement by more than 100 miles.
Every Sunday, he went for long treks -- usually about 15 miles. On some other days he ran twice, waking up at 5 a.m. to log six or seven miles before heading out again 12 hours later. He hasn't taken a day off, he said, in over a month.
"The only real danger is staying healthy, so I'm taking ice baths and stretching every day," Wetzel said. "When you run a lot of miles, that's a good way to get better."
Said Andy Witte, Spalding's head coach: "Putting in a lot of distance is an essential component to getting better. We put the 500-mile thing out there three or four years ago, and the club just sort of formed itself."
It took on a culture of its own, too. Club members -- there could be as many as 10 this season -- wear T-shirts denoting their accomplishment. They talk about membership as if it's an elite fraternity.
"There's a big bond," sophomore Trevor Keen said, "because you've all kind of suffered together."
Spalding runners log their distance every two weeks during the summer so coaches can track their mileage. If somebody is running too little, Witte might ask for more; if somebody is running to much, Witte might warn him about overuse injuries.
"We try to individualize the program," Witte said. "Generally our approach over the summertime is at least one long run a week, one speed workout and one hill run a week. If our team can do all that and get the 500 miles, we're going to be in very good shape."
Less than a week before the Cavaliers officially begin their season, Witte is again pleased with the program's results.
Wetzel is in better shape than ever. Keen is rapidly developing as Spalding's third-best runner. Juniors Steve Downes, Aaron Frazier, Eddie Kirk and Robert Warrington and seniors Patrick Tayer and Bobby Piper are all in excellent shape.
Perhaps best of all, Moody, Spalding's top runner last season, is making a comeback from injuries that hobbled him late in the winter. Moody finished third in the MIAA cross-country championships in 2004, but his knees gave out near the end of the indoor season. He started logging higher mileage again this summer, and he's confident he can contend for an MIAA individual title and help his team repeat.
"We've spent a lot of time getting ready mentally and physically for the upcoming season," Moody said. "We've worked really hard this summer, at least as hard as anybody else."