By Toni L. Sandys

Monday through Friday, the alarm wakes Madison senior Matt Calem at 6:02 a.m. On Saturday, the day of the Octoberfest Invitational in The Plains, Va., Calem was supposed to be at his school and on the bus for a 6:05 a.m. departure for the cross-country meet.

“There’s always a couple that I know oversleep a little or aren’t quite moving as fast in the morning,” said Coach Craig Chasse, who builds in a little extra time to accommodate latecomers.

One of those latecomers happened to be Calem. “I was actually 10 minutes late to the bus,” he admitted. “I wasn’t the last, though,” he quickly reminded Chasse, who was standing nearby. “I was second to last. I kind of slept through my alarm a little bit.”

Madison was one of the first teams to arrive at the meet, which was held at the Great Meadow Polo Club a little more than 30 miles from the Vienna school. The Warhawks pulled in almost two hours before the first race of the day because Chasse wanted to make sure his runners had time to “see the course and mentally start getting prepared for how the course is because every course is different.”

During the week, the team competes on courses that are primarily flat. The course at Great Meadow was markedly different, with multiple hills. “When it’s new you don’t know when there’s a hill coming, or when there’s a tight. It’s much better to walk the course so that you get familiarized with it,” Calem said.

Calem had already run the Great Meadow course several times, so the walk-through presented nothing new to him. “I’m pretty familiar with the course,” he said, “but it is nice to kind of refresh your memory and everything. Just to know, ‘Oh right, this is here, and I forgot about this one part’ and stuff like that.”

With some teams still unloading from buses with less than an hour before race time, Chasse’s runners had finished their walk-through and were relaxing under tents. Some of them had fallen back asleep. “I’d rather them do that than throw the Frisbee around,” Chasse said. “Leave that stuff at home because you’ve got to be mentally getting ready.”

The night before, Calem thought about his race strategy. As he walked the course in the early morning, he solidified his plan, figuring out where each rise and downhill was and where he could spend his energy. Until then, he would conserve it. “It’s early in the morning, and you’ve been waking up early for school every day and you’re just a little bit exhausted.”

His planning done, Calem dozed off for about five minutes before his race. He won.

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