The green wave of Viking runners at the Linfield Harrier Classic. Courtesy of Larry Lawson

The green wave

Cross country team runs in unison

The 2023 season heralds a transformative phase for Portland State’s cross country team. There’s evidence of a significant shift in team dynamics and approach. Bolstered by new coaching leadership and a renewed dedication to unity, this team of athletes is gearing up to make a splash at the Big Sky Conference.


Abi Swain—one of the standout runners for PSU’s cross country team—shed some light on the team’s fresh approach to the season. “We’re doing a new team focus this year,” they said. “We’ve got the green wave going, [and we’re] trying to figure out how to work as a team in those races.”


This green wave strategy emphasizes teamwork and cohesion. The athletes learn to run as both individuals racing against the clock and as a unified force pushing towards a common goal. Swain described how the team’s initial strategy involved running together at the same pace to practice racing as a unit.


Teamwork is the cornerstone of the new, aptly named strategy. Swain explained how the familiarity among teammates played a crucial role in their performance at the Linfield Harrier Classic. “We’ve all been training together last year and this year, so we’re all pretty familiar with each other’s running styles,” they said. “It was really just about holding each other accountable and being supportive.”


During the Linfield Harrier Classic on Sept. 1, the PSU team implemented their new strategy by starting conservatively and gradually picking up the pace. Swain shared their thoughts on this tactical decision. “It is kind of like letting it fly after holding back for a little bit is always a fun feeling in a race,” they said.


The decision to hold back initially was not just a tactical move but a test of their unity. They embraced racing as a team rather than focusing solely on individual success. Swain expressed how this approach allowed them to relax and enjoy the race, free from the pressure of immediate results. The team’s emphasis on unity has shifted its perspective from personal achievements to collective victories.


Under the guidance of new Head Coach Jonathan Marcus, the PSU cross country team has experienced significant changes. Swain spoke positively about this transition. “I think we’re seeing a lot of effort being put into everybody on the team creating a culture, which has been really fun,” they said.


Marcus’ emphasis on collective culture resonated with the athletes. Their newfound sense of camaraderie has become their secret weapon on the cross country course, and they continue to adapt and evolve under his leadership.

A few runners who are riding the high with smiles. Courtesy of Jason De Leon

One of the distinctive team-building initiatives—coined Bite to Portland by the coach—involves the collective exploration of Portland’s diverse culinary offerings. “I think shared meals are always a fantastic means of connection,” Swain said. “Having a designated time where it’s solely focused on this purpose is intentional. It provides an external setting that facilitates getting to know each other.”


While we are on the discussion of food, Marcus has introduced a new focus on nutrition and recovery, recognizing them as crucial X-factors for success.


Swain acknowledged that these changes have had a positive impact on their daily routine. “It’s just helping supplement maybe the time in between getting done with practice and then having to cook a meal every time,” they said. “It’s a good way to make sure we’re getting something quick that’s fueling us.”


Incorporating the coach’s makeshift smoothie bar and snack shack has transformed the team’s nutrition and recovery strategies, guaranteeing they are adequately nourished and primed for their demanding training regimens. Marcus dedicated considerable effort to secure its inclusion within the program’s financial framework.


Zach Grams echoed his teammates’ sentiments about the impact of nutrition and recovery on their training regimen. He praised Marcus’ approach, bringing a new level of awareness to the importance of proper nutrition. 


“We’ve always known food and nutrition is like a huge part of running but… Coach Marcus has really broken it down into little sections,” Grams said. “[Like] how having our protein shakes and our smoothies and food and snacks… can aid recovery and also make us feel better during workouts, like eating at the right time before [running] and stuff like that.”


The rigorous training regimen—which, at times, can include  up to four workouts and four weight sessions per week—demands proper nutrition and recovery. The team is committed to ensuring they are well-fueled and recovered, highlighting their dedication to unity and performance.


Grams also shed some light on the team’s evolving approach to race preparation, emphasizing the benefits of structured plans. He highlighted the advantage of not having to fully race all the time and having a clear strategy for each competition.


When asked about his role in contributing to the cohesive team atmosphere, Grams emphasized the importance of unity and support, especially in the face of upcoming challenges.


“There’s gonna be a lot of challenges that come along our way, so just being there for each other and supporting each other in our own challenges, whether it’s in running or outside of running,” Grams said.


As a fifth-year athlete, Grams is cognizant of the need to mentor and prepare the next generation of runners. He said he wanted to “set up the guys who are going to be here next year with leadership skills and… help shape that image.”


Grams spoke about the role of adversity in personal growth and the value of supportive coaches in his cross country journey. 


“I think that what I’ve gotten through my years here at PSU… it makes you who you are, and having supportive coaches throughout the way has really helped that as well,” he said.


His reflections on adversity highlight how challenges can shape character and foster resilience, strengthening every athlete on the team, both as individuals and as a collective force.


In a world where individual achievements often steal the spotlight, the PSU cross country team proves that running as one can lead to greatness. Their journey is a testament to the power of unity, and as the 2023 season unfolds, they aim to make a lasting impact in the world of cross country running.

The runners are all smiles after their first meet of the season. Courtesy of Jason De Leon