Live in the moment.

That simple sentence kicked off the fifth year of Derby City Athletic Club’s youth cross-country camp, which I wrote more about in the July issue of the Running Journal.

Coach David Flaugher encouraged this year’s 65 attendees to focus, too — strategies key to being strong cross-country runners.

At camp were runners from sixth grade up to incoming college freshman, all with more passion and determination than many adult runners. This year, that included 18 state championship winners, with 48 total state titles in track and cross-country.

The five-day camp takes place each summer in the Smokey Mountains, with attendees primarily from Louisville but with a handful from outside areas like Lexington and Northern Kentucky.

Coach Dave, left, and Coach Chi.

They did not take Coach David’s words lightly, either. From the first day, runners approached camp with a different mindset than in year’s past. Instead of racing to “win” each training run, they went out together and got in quality base-building mileage.

It is often hard to rein in youth runners — they just want to go as hard, as fast, as far as they can each day.

There was less “one-stepping” each other, less over-estimating their own fitness. Campers showed a maturity in their running that will serve them well in the upcoming season and beyond.

As they ran, I often heard someone say, “Live in the moment.” Sometimes it was a little sarcastic, which happens when your long run involves more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain.

But mostly, they took it to heart.

Coach David used camp’s last run to drive home the week’s message.

That run involved going up — and fortunately back down — Rich Mountain Road, nestled in Cades Cove.

“You didn’t know when that uphill was going to stop,” Coach David told runners after. But by staying focused and just putting one foot in front of the other, everyone made it to the top.

Everyone has times in races when they feel bad, Coach David said — and that applies to all us adults, too — but staying in the moment can get you through those dark places.

You can’t give up and you can’t let those bad moments get the best of you.

We’ve all had them. Occasionally, they win. Sometimes you drop out even if you didn’t really have to — and if you’re like me, you feel guilty for hours after.

I even had those moments running up Rich Mountain Road. My Achilles was screaming from all the uphill mileage; so were my lungs. And the gravel dust wasn’t making it any easier to breathe.

I had run strong all week, but a three-mile uphill climb seemed stronger.

Me, second from right, with several members of the nationally-ranked Assumption HIgh School team and the Wells boys.

“Live in the moment,” said my regular training partner and fellow camp chaperone as we kept running uphill. And up. And up.

I won’t lie, I was really happy to see our water stop at mile 2.5. The parent chaperone who drove the water there even offered us damp towels.

Mentally and physically, the mountain was kicking my butt.

“I hate you, mountain,” I said aloud. I bet I wasn’t the only one.

Cruising downhill for another three miles, I started to take that back. Okay, I thought, maybe it wasn’t that bad.

And when we finished, I felt like a rock star.

“Take that, mountain!” I thought. I likely said that aloud, too.

As runners, we all must find ways to fight through those tough moments in training and racing. Many elite athletes overcome those moments through mantras they recite in training and use to focus during racing.

Campers on the deck listening to Coach Dave.

Sports psychologists recommend mantras as a way to — you guessed it — stay focused. Mantras can help runners get away from negative thoughts and towards positive ones.

These simple phrases can pull you out of a tough spot and get you back on track during a race — or while you’re running up what seems like a never-ending mountain.

Sure, DCAC camp is intended to get runners building mileage for a great cross-country season. But it is just as important to develop a strong, positive mental attitude.

And as our campers toe the line for their races this fall, hopefully many of them will remember what they learned coming down Rich Mountain Road: Live in the moment.