The cars pulled up into the parking lot at Shelton High, randomly at first but then in a steady flow.

Athletes exited the vehicles and gathered below the football field.

Some chatted each other up, others stood alone stretching calf muscles and hamstrings.

It was only July, but the Shelton cross country runners were ready to get the season started.

While some ousiders consider running a punishment (“Take a lap.”), each of these harriers have found a personal connection with the challenge of testing one’s ability to not only persevere but thrive.

LIZZY RICHMOND

“We’ve had a lot of great runners to look up to and big shoes to fill,” said Lizzie Richmond, co-captain of the girls’ team with Jenna Melanson. “What is important is that with each season, we want our own success as a team.”

“I’m drawn to both the team aspect and personal nature of running,” said Richmond, whose best time is 22:30. “Competing gives me a sense of accomplishment. I hope to break under 22 minutes this season.”

Richmond came out as a freshman and was immediately accepted.

“Because of how we were brought along that first year, Jenna and I feel a sense of responsibility to do the same,” she said. “There are new runners and younger runners. There is a right way to train and it is important to share that.”

And why are there so many runners training this hard over the summer months.

“You don’t have time to try to get in shape once school starts,” Richmond said. “You can always find a varsity runner here or running on the streets or woods by themselves.

“I enjoy running. Sometimes I go by myself. There is a closer bond, though, when you run with your friends (teammates). We push each other.”

BRANDON FULTON

Fulton is one of a handful of seniors looking to continue the success story.

"It is important to have helped the younger guys, so that when we go, they can take over and then they can do the same.”

This wash-rinse-repeat cycle ended with the Gaels winning the SCC Housatonic Division championship a year ago.

“We have a great group of freshmen joining us, and talented sophomore and juniors,” Fulton said. “Cross country is a sport I love and enjoy. It is like joining a small family.”

He loves the concept.

“We had great runners, but you need other guys to fill in the top 10 spots,” he said. “Come race time, how you do as a group is what makes you a team.”

Fulton has a personal mark he’d like to better.

“My goal is to run in the low 18s (minutes) or a sub 18,” he said. “I began running in seventh grade, but it’s so different now. I thought it would be great to for me personally and I found that I’m more excited when we do well as a team.”

WILL RODRIGUES

A rising sophomore who ran a personal nest 19:04 at the Southern Connecticut Conference freshmen race, Rodrigues remembers his first time getting out of the car for summer workouts.

“I came to the captain’s practice and was nervous,” he said. “I played soccer and ran cross country at Shelton Intermediate School and decided to stick with running.

“Robert Dillon (SCC champion) and all the seniors were great role models. All the older guys ran the mile loops with us. They would slow down while we got the mileage down.”

“Coach (Michael) Gambardella has been coaching for as long as I’ve been alive, and he keeps things fun while pushing us to get better. Warming up correctly, cooling down afterwards and then stretching is what makes or breaks a runner.

“Because of how hard last year’s seniors worked, we all know what it takes.”

Six days a week over the summer months, the runners gathered below the track.

They have been trained to develop their core muscles and abdomens and work outwards from there.

The corps of athletes at Shelton have taken that physical training and turned it into a team-bonding mechanism.