Running long distances seems like a solitary pursuit, but at Homewood-Flossmoor, the Vikings' best distance runners travel in a pack.
It's a tradition in cross country, teammates bunching together to improve overall performance. Never mind that it seems counterintuitive to non-runners, who might logically conclude part of going faster is running away from the guy next to you.
H-F's Kevin Anderson offered an explanation. He's spent three years running beside fellow senior Matt Anyiwo and junior Christopher Hoover.
"In education, they say if you take a test in the same seat you learned something in, you'll do better," he said. "It's like that with running. Running with those guys, I know where I am."
Or, to put it another way: during the season, Anyiwo, a state qualifier last year, Hoover, who finished fifth in Saturday's Andrew 3A regional, and Anderson, who was one spot behind Anyiwo in 13th, train together six or seven days per week. During the offseason, it's usually two or three times per week.
"There's never a day in practice where all three of us feel good," Anderson said. "The guys who do help the ones who don't."
Saturday at Andrew, Anyiwo struggled, while Hoover set a personal best of 15 minutes, 39 seconds over the three miles, Anyiwo finished in 16:07. At sectional last year he ran a 15:39, and at state a 15:22.
"My legs felt like dead weight," Anyiwo said of his Saturday run. "Everyone has had that. Early in the year, I never felt the pain of a race. Now …
"If I run with Christian and Kevin, I should be fine."
He needs to look no further than Anderson for proof.
"At Rich Central, I ran 18:03," Anderson said of an Oct. 12 invitational. "I ran 16:08 (Saturday).
"A lot of research says runners can go through a dead leg period. I also had a lot of side stitch problems. When you get over those things and feel healthy again, that's one of the greatest things about running."
He'll need fresh legs to keep up with Hoover, who concedes there are times when it is necessary to break from the pack.
"When I'm not comfortable, I use the pack to pull me," he said. "When we run together, we can use that team energy.
"But, you know when it's time to go. It's something you have to feel. I can't really explain it."
He doesn't have to explain it to Anyiwo, who as Hoover has improved is less often H-F's top finisher.
"We let each other know what pace we should be hitting," Anyiwo said. "It helps that we hang out outside of practice. We're together all the time, not just running."
And when it's time to go, that doesn't mean it's time to leave.
"You wouldn't want to leave your brother behind," he said. "You want to bring him along.
"I feel like that's how we run."