Not sure why I didn’t post this when I first wrote it, but here’s an update on the New England Small College Athletic Conference Championships, or NESCACs, from two weeks ago.
November 1st was another good day for the men of TUXC.
From the moment I woke up, I had a pretty good feeling about what was in store. Right off the bat, we found a humorous assortment of discarded Halloween costume props on the sidewalks of my street on the way to our bus, so I rolled up in style with a sword, a cape, and a Mario hat. From there, our day only got better, as we popped in the Dodgeball DVD for the drive down to Connecticut.
The game plan was very new for me. I am generally a conservative runner, starting the race a notch behind where I’d like to finish and working my way up in the ranks as the race progresses. There will be none of that today. With the twists and turn and soggy conditions, there will be no working up through a pack. From the gun, we will run at the front and hang on as best we can. There may be stronger athletes than us in the race, but they’re going to have to run through us to beat us.
The starter’s pistol sound, and freshman Kyle Marks and I go right to the front. The feeling is unreal. Here I am, some fairly unknown runner from Tufts, running shoulder to shoulder with my close friend and teammate, toeing a field littered with Kenyans, All-Americans, and National caliber runners through in 4:50-something. As we head up-hill to the first mile mark, a few of the Kenyans go by us, and the game is on. The strategy is simple: hold on at hard as you can.
By about 2 or 3 miles into the race, everything is going more or less according to plan. We’re a little spread out as a team, but I’m the second runner for Tufts running at the back end of the top-15, with 3 Williams runners breaking the wind for me. Unfortunately, 3 miles is when it starts getting a lot harder. The whole race went out fast, and I went out the fastest, so I’m the most tired in the field. Fresher runners will start making their bid for a spot in the top 10-20, but I have to hang on to my position at all costs. A quick check for damage control purposes: my legs hurt, and my lungs are on fire. These are things we have learned to deal with. Now we get to see how much our training was worth.
After crossing the muddy fields, we head into the woods at 3.5 miles to slowly ascend to the top of the park for the last time. TUXC first-years Matt Rand and Kyle Marks take off and pass me. I can tell from their strides that they’re going to have a great closing mile. Getting to the top of the park seems like an insurmountable feat, and a few more runners pass me, and I’m teetering on falling into the 30s. Luckily, the fast start strung out the field, and there are only a few runners still following close behind. Once we reach the top of the hill, I know that everyone around me is hurting as much as I am, and I take advantage of the long downhill leading into the last half mile on the fields again. I try as hard as I can to stay relaxed and smooth as I pick up speed on the downhill, and pass other struggling runners. As I come out onto the field for the last time, I’m back in 20th. At this point, there is no more strategy. Only guts.
The mud slows the race down, and picking up more distance is tough. Try as I might, there’s no way I can mount another offensive. My body is shot and I can barely feel my feet moving anymore. All I can do is hold on and cross the finish line on my feet. A cheering teammate yells to me that only 30 seconds remain, but I can take no solace in that, 30 seconds is an eternity. The finish line slowly (barely) draws closer, and I can only grit my teeth and press my foot down as hard as I can on the accelerator. In the last 20 meters, I lose one spot to a miler from Amherst. I have run the hardest race of my life. After passing through the finishing chute, I fall to the ground with no intentions of getting up for a long time.
When all is said and done, I was the 21st finisher, 3 spots behind Matt, and 5 behind Kyle. All three of us have held up well to the challenging course, competition, and strategy. Within 20 seconds, Tufts senior Nick Welch has crossed the line as our fifth runner, and our scoring is complete. We’ve tallied up 90 points. Jesse Faller was 4th, Kyle 16th, Matt 18th, me 21st, and Nick 31st. Williams won the meet going away with all five scoring runners in the top-15. Unfortunately, we lost the closely contested second place spot by 2 points to Amherst, but we are excited with finishing third. The NESCAC has strong teams, and third is the highest we’ve placed in four years.
The experiences of the whole day are uplifting, but we still have to keep the bigger picture in mind. NESCACs is one piece of the puzzle; the biggest piece so far, but still just a tune up for Regionals. There are 13 days left. All of the work has been done, we have no more fitness to gain between now and then. At this point, it’s just a matter of feeling good when we stand on the start line in Maine…