For most collegiate sports there are hours and hours spent scouting the opposition. The way they play, their weaknesses, their strengths, everything under the sun is broken down through film.
That's not the case when it comes to cross country.
"We know that our sport is different because there are so many unknown elements with weather, the type of surface, the amount of hills and on and on," VCU Director of Cross Country Nicole Cook said. "The only thing we know is how far we are running and it's up to us to put our best effort forward every time we toe the line. It's so much about the mental aspect for our student-athletes."
Cook and her cross country squads will toe the line for the biggest prize of the year this weekend at the CAA Championships, hosted by Georgia State University.
"I like the way our student-athletes have approached this season," Cook said. "We have really focused on this championship meet and because of that we might not have had the big personal bests we had last year, but I think we are more prepared to have our best results at the exact time we need to and that's this weekend."
The Rams will send nine men and five women to Atlanta this weekend. The top five runners from each school will account for the point scoring and ultimately determine the championship.
William & Mary has won 11 straight CAA Championships, while James Madison took home last year's title on the women's side.
"The thing I try to stress to our athletes is that it doesn't matter what school you're coming from, it's ultimately up to you to decide how much you're willing to push yourself on that given day," Cook said. "It doesn't matter if you're a walk on or a star senior, it's all about mentally pushing yourself every step of the way."
Cook will be leaning on five seniors, three men and two women, to lead by example when they take to the trails this weekend.
"Those three guys are big for us, they've been there and know what it takes at these championship meets," Cook said. "We really need them to set the tone from the start."
O n the women's side, the second-year coach will look for Nicole Walters and Heather DelaCruz to lead the Black & Gold, who finished ninth at last year's championship meet.
"Nicole and Heather are the same way, they've been around and know how to be successful at these championship meets, so it'll be huge for them to set the tone for our team," Cook said.
The Rams will be focused on the mental side as the course, Nash Farm Battlefield Park, is a relative unknown for many CAA squads.
"It's not a rare occurrence in our sport that we're not exactly sure what to expect as far as a course layout," Cook said. "We've been told it's pretty hilly, but that's a relative term, so we're just going to do everything we can to prepare for all conditions."
Ultimately, Cook is looking for one thing from her athletes this weekend.
"There's only one thing I ask of my runners every time out and that's to give their absolute best effort," she said. "Running is so much about passion and pushing yourself, so when they go out and give it all they have, that's all I can ask for."