CHEYENNE – Kaleb Gissendanner is having the best cross-country season of his Cheyenne South career.
The senior has placed in the top 10 at all four races he has run this fall. That includes a runner-up finish at the Burns-Pine Bluffs Invitational, and a third-place showing at the season-opening Laramie County Invitational.
Gissendanner has been training better and more consistently than he has at any point in his career, but he said the secret to his success isn’t physical.
“When you’re running, your body is telling your brain it needs to slow down or to quit, but you have to ignore that,” Gissendanner said.
The book “Can’t Hurt Me” by former Navy SEAL and ultra-marathoner David Goggins has helped Gissendanner block out that impulse better than before.
“A lot of people think running is physical,” Gissendanner said. “Some of it is. You have to have talent and stamina to do this, but it’s also really mental. Your body is trying to say slow down, pace yourself or you need to stop.
“You can’t do that in races. You have to push through.”
Gissendanner plans to enlist in the Air Force after he graduates next spring. Military service runs in his family. His paternal grandfather served in the Air Force, while his maternal grandfather served in the Army. Gissendanner also has an aunt currently in the Air Force. He has dreamed of serving since his first years of elementary school.
Family friends who have served in special operations units talked to Gissendanner about the training they endured. They told him about the elite athletes who washed out of their teams because they lacked the mental toughness necessary to manage the rigors of training.
Gissendanner researched books on mental training and found that Goggins’ book was highly recommended. He pored through it over the summer, and has recently restarted it.
“It has helped shape my mental attitude,” Gissendanner said. “You can’t think you’re going to fail. You always have to look on the bright side. Thinking negatively can impact you a lot more than if you’re thinking on the positive side.
“I used to get to the second mile of races and think that I couldn’t keep running at the pace I did in the first mile. Now, I just block it out and keep going.”
Gissendanner placed ninth at Friday’s Cheyenne Invitational, which is his worst finish of the season. His time of 18 minutes, 29.32 seconds is also his slowest of the year. Bison coach Casey Steele took the blame for Gissendanner’s struggles Friday.
“I really hammered the kids with a week of hard and intense training,” Steele said. “I knew this was going to be a tough race for them, and their times were going to be down, but I didn’t want to tell any of them that beforehand.”
If ever there was a week Gissendanner could have mailed it in, this was it. Instead, Steele thought he ran every bit as hard as he has in any other race. Even Steele has noticed a change in Gissendanner’s mentality.
“He has great focus and intensity in every single workout, and he has been so consistent in practice,” Steele said. “That has made a huge difference. Young runners tend to have a great workout here and there, and then they’re so-so every other day.
“(Gissendanner) has learned how to have a great workout almost every day. He just has a great attitude, and that has changed everything for him.”