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Oct. 31, 2013
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It is 6 a.m. and star junior runner for the Penn State cross country team, Leigha Anderson, is still fast asleep. Going against the persona of most runners, which involves early morning runs and a bottle of water, Anderson prefers to remain in bed until she has to get up for class.
"I don't run in the morning," said Anderson with a laugh. "Plus, I run an average mileage compared to the rest of the team."
With the Big Ten Championships looming, Anderson looks back at her summer training as an integral part of why she has been Penn State's most consistent runner throughout the season.
"I ran more miles over the summer, and I paid attention to the little things," said Anderson. "I definitely took care of my body and really worked on not getting injured so that I could avoid the little injury problems that I had last year."
However, the little injuries that Anderson encountered last season were far from little. While most cross country runners were able to train via track during the spring and into the summer months, Anderson had to battle a blood condition, known as anemia.
For those unfamiliar with what the illness entails, anemia is a condition marked by a deficiency of red blood cells resulting in fatigue.
"I was anemic at the end of the track season, so I didn't really get to run very much," said Anderson. "I took a couple weeks off just to get my mind back together and my body healthy. It's all about focusing on the details."
With anemia now behind her, Anderson has been able to concentrate more closely on the current season. She has become the Nittany Lions most consistent runner, finishing second in the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational, 30th in the Paul Short Run and 43rd at the Pre-National Invitational.
Unlike the regimented runners, Anderson has taken somewhat of a unique approach to find success.
"I just don't stress about the little things and don't go crazy when things don't go my way. I am not a very routine person. I just go with the flow," said Anderson. "The key is to pay attention to what I'm eating, stay on top of my studies and work hard at practice."
Due to her class standing and the success that she has encountered this season, Anderson has groomed herself into a leadership role on the team. Nevertheless, the transition for Anderson was one that simply happened with time.
"It's a little bit different from last year. I had girls ahead of me last year that I looked up to. It's cool to think that I can be a good example for the underclassmen," said Anderson. "I embrace being a leader. I definitely like to get people's feedback after a race to see what is going on with them. We talk about what we want to accomplish at Big Ten's and how we can improve."
Thanks in large part to Beth Alford-Sullivan, head coach of Penn State cross country, Anderson's running strength and leadership qualities have been developed to a very high level of ability. Anderson's preference of just going with the flow has been enhanced by Alford-Sullivan's coaching style.
"She has definitely helped a lot. She puts all of our training together for us to follow. She keeps us motivated for practice everyday. She definitely doesn't put too much pressure on us," said Anderson. "For example, this week before Big Tens has been very low key. She keeps everyone calm before big races."
To keep her mind clear during the season, Anderson utilizes the amenities that Netflix provides. She recently finished Desperate Housewives and Parenthood and says that she has moved on to a new series called The Walking Dead to watch during her free time.
With that being said, Netflix is not the only outlet that Anderson has to keep her mind clear of overthinking about running. Anderson plans on dressing up with her teammates for Halloween and then climbing Mt. Nittany and carving pumpkins with the squad once they return from the Big Ten Championships.
Even though the goal is to not overthink about what is ahead, Anderson has her mind set straight for the meet this upcoming weekend. After placing 31st overall at the Big Ten Championships last year, it is natural for her to have high expectations for herself and the team at the Big Ten Championships on Sunday in West Lafayette, Ind.
"We are definitely starting to taper, which is nice, because our mileage is getting lower," said Anderson. "We all feel fresher for the bigger races. A top 3 finish at Big Tens would be very good for our team."
At this point in the season, the fact that Netflix and fun team activities are awaiting Anderson and the rest of the team when they return from West Lafayette is not significant. What is important to Anderson is a strong finish at the Big Ten Championships.