If you ask most cross country runners, they’ll tell you that a pool is not where they want to spend their training time. Runners want to run. They need to run, log miles outside, and face the elements. The pool is where runners go when they’re injured, but for Golden Gopher senior cross country harrier Matt Barrett being in the pool has become the secret to his success.
Barrett, a native of Monroe, Wis., started running for the Gophers in 2005, and his career has been plagued by injuries from the beginning.
“It was hard the first couple of years,” said Barrett, who earned NCAA All-Midwest Region honors in 2008, “I’d be rolling along, and things would be going well, and all of a sudden I’d have a little break down.”
To keep healthy, Matt and his coach Steve Plasencia had to find a new way for him to train.
“Coach and I have really worked on that the last couple of years,” Barrett explained. “We’ve adjusted my training, backed off the mileage, and used the pool in the training room a lot to supplement running workouts, and I feel like that’s really helped.”
Barrett said he’s learned that to be able to run well at the end of the season, the pool is where he needs to be. It has kept his legs strong and freed him from the nagging injuries he suffered in his first couple of years at the University of Minnesota. Matt feels like pool workouts could help a lot of runners if they let it.
“To do two shorter runs a week isn’t a bad thing,” he added. “I think a lot of guys could benefit from it. The pool’s a place a lot of people don’t want to be if you’re a runner. It’s one of those things that can be a kind of a mental barrier if you let it be.”
Pool training is used to keep runners’ legs fresh. Legs take less pounding in the water; it lessens the impact of running outside or on any surface, from the track to the grass country course. This doesn’t mean that Barrett shies away from high-impact running. His favorite courses are the ones with lots of hills.
“I think my body type kind of fits hillier courses better. I’ve always had success on hilly courses. I feel like I’ve always run well at the Griak, which is one of the tougher courses we’ll see all year. I just think that I run hills well. I’ve always been a hill runner. It’s always been something I’ve really excelled at.”
The determination that drove Matt to find a new way train and that makes him love difficult courses has made him a leader on his team. At this year’s Griak Invitational, he finished in sixth place and ran one of the best races of his career. Barrett was also voted a team captain by his teammates this season. It is a role that Matt takes great pride in, and he takes every opportunity available to lead by example.
“I’ve never really been super outgoing. I feel like if I am doing something, and I’m having good results from it, then other people are just going to pick up on it,” Barrett said.
Barrett’s leadership will be crucial this season on a team that includes 10 freshman runners.
“We’ve got a good group of freshmen this year. I see a lot of potential from them for the future. There’s not a lot of guys who have a lot of cross country experience. You’ve got to make sure to tell them little details that they may be missing about a course or an upcoming race.”
Matt’s discipline and work ethic will serve him well in the future as he looks for a career in statistics, but he’s not focusing on life after college just yet. Even as he looks back on his experience as a Gopher athlete, he knows that it is far from finished as the team looks ahead to the Big Ten Championships meet next weekend (Nov. 1).
“It’s been a great experience, but it’s far from over. I’ve had people say, ‘oh it’s your last year,’ but I’m definitely not thinking about that. It is my last year, but this team is moving forward as a group. It’s been a fun ride here, and it’s still going.”
-- Written by Alli Johnson
Minnesota Athletic Communications Student Assistant