NESCACs

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…

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Finally, the end of Crunch Time… for now.

YO!  Sorry for the delay, life has been surprisingly crazy as of late…

The last time I left you, my captive audience, I was under the assumption that my all-over-the-place-cross-country-meet-and-schoolwork-filled-week was over.  That was incredibly not true.

After the first 2 big tests a few weeks ago came a barrage of exams and projects.  Generally at Tufts, classes and professors will try to stagger their exams for the students’ benefit, so that an engineering major, for example, won’t have 5 exams and 3 projects in 9 days.  This semester, I had the misfortune of not catching a break with exam stagger.  Siiiiiiiiick.

In all fairness, the studying and workload weren’t nearly as hard as I’m making it out to be.  All of my classes are very interesting for the most part.

The ME 37: Dynamics and Vibrations test was considerably challenging, but I think I handled it pretty well despite having no idea how to do the last problem until the final 5 minutes.  I really like the set-up of the course though.  Unlike most of my lecture classes, there is no collected homework.  Instead, our professor hands our a sheet of solved problems for us to review and study.  His philosophy is that “If you can do the problems, good.  If you can’t, seek help from the professor, your neighbors, the text, or the class TA’s (teaching assistants).”  Every other class period or so, we have a quick quiz of one or two involved questions to test your knowledge.  These quizzes take the place of graded homework, and it also gives the professor a metric to see how the class is doing as a whole on each section of material.

The ME 42: Machine Design exam was NOT my finest moment.  I definitely could have been more prepared for the test, but luckily it was an open note test (and my lecture notes are probably second to none).  Tufts Engineering also comes through in the clutch with a grading curve.  ME 42, like several other engineering classes, is taught at two different times (generally one in the morning, one in the afternoon) by different professors.  Naturally, different professors teach more in depth on some topics but not others depending on the professor’s area of expertise, the class’s overall interest, time constraints, etc.  However, both sections shared the same test, so different classes performed differently on each section.  If the difference is drastic enough (and obviously caused by the difference in professor and not just lazy students), the professors will generally agree to bring up the grades of the lower class so that everyone is on a level playing field.

The last test of my marathon fort-night (more on the 2009 NYC marathon later) was Computer Science.  Very interesting test, as I was imagining.  Our professor told us outright that he doesn’t want to see the good students get A’s and everyone else get C’s.  He looks for a fair breakdown of grades, so there are a few easy sections that just about everyone should get, a few average questions that should be challenging all around, and a question or two that will really separate the very best from the very good.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a “very good”.  In addition to the test, we had one of about 6 or 7 projects over the semester due this week.  Furiously typing out code at 11:30, my teammate/former roommate and I finished in stunning fashion with 15 minutes to spare before the midnight deadline.  At times, these projects can be stressful, especially on top of other commitments (including Halloween trick-or-treating!), but nothing feels quite like finally getting it to work.  The best way I can describe is to non-engineers is that it is much like raising a child.  This data analysis program that we are writing is analogous to bringing a child into the world by creating it, raising it, teaching it what to do, teaching it what not to do, and teaching it to know when to keep working, when to quit, and when it has done a good job.  Once all of these lessons (programming lines) are complete, we send our “child” off into the real world and let it loose on data.  Chances are, it will make a mistake.  And when it does make a mistake, it’s colossal; I mean this program is really blowing it.  So you take your little offspring program back to the drawing board, you look at it, figure out why it did what it did, and you teach it new manners.  This cycle repeats itself until finally, at 11:45 in the basement of the Comp Sci building, we realize that our little program-child is all grown up and learns to [fill in the blank with whatever it’s meant to do] all on its own without any help from mommy (the professor) and daddy (you).  I recall walking home from the lab that night in the bitter cold saying to my friend “Greg! I’m so happy!  I cannot believe that worked!  GREG!!!  I’M SO HAPPY!”  It had been a long evening…

 

With the half-way point midterms now behind us, the next few weeks should be a little more calm and manageable for me.  I’ll send out another update in either a few hours or a few days on how the season is going, and a recap of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Championship yesterday, where we finished 3rd on the men’s side our of 11 teams.

 

In completely unrelated news, American Meb Keflezighi won the ING New York City Marathon with a picture-perfect race against possibly the deepest field ever assembled in New York!  He ended a 27-year drought without a single American winner, and he was backed up in style with 5 other Americans crossing the line in the top-10 spots.  A great day for American distance running!

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Semester/Season Updates!

I have recently concluded that life is immeasurably more difficult when the hard-drive on your laptop gets fried.  Internet access has been scarce, so I apologize for my time off the radar.  It is currently snowing rather hard here in Medford, so there is little to do but huddle up indoors.  With all this free time, I suppose I could spare an update on the JumboXC life.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve seen 6 whole weeks of school go by already!  Somehow, the stars aligned just right this semester and I’ve only had 2 big exams thus far, both pretty manageable.

The first was Discrete Math, which has been an interesting lecture class so far.  We’ve discussed mostly the principles of logic and proof-writing.  This class, much like Microeconomics, alters the way I look at a lot of everyday situations.  For example, I can now prove that every piece of chalk in the world is yellow, and that I will never wear sandals again if today being cold implies tomorrow being cold, assuming that it was cold either yesterday or today.  It seems silly at first, but I definitely believe abstract thinking always leads to better decision-making due to consideration of alternate perspectives.

Our linear algebra exam was a bit more treacherous.  The material isn’t too much of a stretch, we’re solving linear systems of equations using matrix algebra (or figuring out why/when these methods don’t work), but By Golly, it’s a lot harder without a calculator.

My favorite classes so far are definitely ME 37: Dynamics and Vibrations, and COMP 11: Intro to Computer Science.

After a quick review of high school physics, our Dynamics and Vibrations class jumped into the mechanics of motions like collisions/impacts/projectiles (how fast and high must a satellite orbit in order to avoid crashing into the Earth?) and we’re now heading into rotation of beams/bodies (how fast are the pistons of an engine traveling when the motor is operating at certain frequency?).

Intro to Comp Sci (after kicking my butt for about a month) has turned very interesting once I figured out what was going on in class.  For an engineer, I’m woefully inexperienced with programming, so I had a little catching up to do.  Right now, we’re learning how to reliably manipulate and analyze data using patient computer programming, instead of impatient mathematicians.  Mathematicians take up cubicles, programs only take up memory.

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The season has been awesome so far!  Since I’ve been in college, every cross country season has seemed like a game of “wait and hope that things go really well or that all the other teams mess up” for me.  This year has been a welcome change.  With a vibrant class of new freshmen and a slew of dedicated veterans, TUXC is finally taking aim and chomping at the bit.

The season started out at beautiful Harkness Park in New London, Connecticut with the Connecticut College Invitational.  As the flattest and fastest course we will run this year, we all seized the opportunity to post massive improvements from last year’s personal bests.  From top to bottom, nearly ever member of the roster posted a life-time fastest 8,000 meter cross country time.  The result: we took home our first outright win in three years, outpacing all 15 teams in the race, including Regional rivals Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, and the hosts, Connecticut College.

Two weeks later, we were at it again in the Open New England Championship against dozens of schools from Divisions I, II, and III.  Resting one of our five varsity scorers (Senior Captain Nick Welch), we placed 20th (7th of 22 among DIII teams).  Our Sub-Varsity squad revealed its depth, finishing 5th out of 16 DIII rivals.

Yesterday was our most recent race, the Plansky Invitational at beautiful Mt. Greylock near Williams College.  As our second competition in 8 days, we used the race more as a scrimmage, running under control and in groups.  Regardless, 8 of the first 12 collegiates to cross the line wore the brown and blue, and we earned our second title of the year.

This coming Sunday, our Sub-Varsity squad will round out their season at the Mayer’s Cup at Franklin Park on the other side of Boston, and the Varsity will suit up next at the conference championship (NESCACs) the morning after Halloween at Wickham Park by Trinity College.  All eyes, however, are still focused on the Regional meet on November 14th…

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Outside the classroom and off the track, life is going along as usual.  Living off campus is quite nice, with the exception of heating bills.  By luck of the draw, I obviously live in the coldest room in the house by far, so I’ve been investing heavily in flannel sleepwear.  Boston winters somehow get colder and colder every year, I swear (I may also be slowly bankrupting the University with the sheer quantity of hot chocolate I’ve been drinking at the dinning hall as a result).  I’d like to give a few quick shout-outs to the unstoppable New York Yankees on their way to a 27th World Series title, and the Wilton High School cross country team as they ramp up for their conference championship coming up this thursday in New Canaan, CT.  Warrior Pride, Boys!

JRags, out.  Please stop snowing.

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TUXC 2009

“In football, you might get your bell rung, but you go in with the expectations that you might get hurt, and you hope to win and come out unscathed. As a distance runner, you know you’re going to get your bell rung. Distance runners are experts at pain, discomfort, and fear. You’re not coming away feeling good. It’s a matter of how much pain you can deal with on those days. It’s not a strategy. It’s just a callusing of the mind and body to deal with discomfort. Any serioius runner bounces back. That’s the nature of the game. Taking pain.”

-Chris Lear in Running with the Buffalos

On November 14th, seven men in brown and blue jerseys and feather-weight shoes will silently jog together to the starting line of the 2009 DIII Cross Country New England Championship in Cumberland, Maine.  Each will have his own strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and fears.  Each is an individual from a vastly different background.  However, for the next 30 minutes, as well as for the previous 4 years, they will share one thing: an absolute belief in the other six runners in tow.  They have collectively run over 10,000 miles this season in preparation for this race.  Off in the distance, the other members of their team gather.  Almost a hundred lean bodies bear war paint of the same color as their uniforms.  They scream with the intensity of a barbarian horde.  TU.  XC.  TU.  XC.  This is the moment of truth when the faith these seven men have in their legs must be resolute and hard as diamond.  Finally, a voice is heard above all of the commotion.  “Runners, take your marks…”

From late-May to mid-November, this is the one moment that each and every Tufts University Cross Country runner will think about at some point every single day.  Some of us are calculating, some are obsessive, and some are fanatical, but all of us are driven by an eagerness to test and exceed our human limits.  We have all heart the obvious comments… “What are you running from?” or “Don’t you get tired?” or the classic “I can barely DRIVE ten miles!”  There is a spiritual freedom and exhilaration attributed to the act of running that cannot be described, only experienced.  At some point, it is no longer a sport or a hobby or a past-time, but a way of life.  The best perk about this way of life is the TUXC community.

The first time I set foot on the Tufts campus, I was a scrubby cross country recruit meeting the team on an overnight visit and getting a feel for the school.  My first reaction was that I was surrounded by people just like me!  Runners who take their craft seriously in high school are few and far between, but there I was, surrounded by like-minded individuals hammering a fast clip down the Charles River, chatting about outdoor track meets.  I was immediately in awe; I had found a melting pot of elite students and thinkers who shared my passion for analyzing a seemingly simple sport.  This trend pervades the student body at Tufts, not just the cross country team.  Regardless of what interests you may have, you will find dozens (if not hundreds) of other students who share your viewpoint the same way I did.

In addition to finding like-minded runners on the cross country team, I found an entire community of support.  College is a stressful time, and in the midst of homeworks, due dates, midterms, job interviews, and lectures, everyone falls apart in some capacity on occasion.  Especially as a freshman, I would have been lost without the wisdom and guidance of my peers and mentor on the team.  From picking classes to picking dormitories and from meeting employers to meeting co-eds, I cannot think of a single situation in the last three years when I haven’t looked to a teammate for a second opinion.  My team is my family when I’m at school, and they are always looking out for me, as I am for them.  Our whole is always greater than the sum of our parts, and that will be true for whatever “family” you develop at Tufts.

I could go on and on about what running for a team means to me, like the pride and satisfaction in sacrificing for a common goal, but alas, you will have to wait for more posts to find out more…  What I do want to impress upon any student considering Tufts is that we are so much more than a school, we are a community of learners, co-workers, and future leaders.  We share a compassion for one another’s pursuits, and we want to do everything we can to change, fix, or improve the world around us using the principles and work ethic that we learn from our faculty.  The same way a track coach turns a group or seven athletes into a better team, every member of the Tufts student body strives to turn the world into a better community.

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Anima Sana In Corpore Sano

Hello and welcome to this new blog, the chronicles of a Tufts Jumbo out “livin’ the dream” in the classroom, out on the track, in the ice cream line at Dewick, buried in the stacks of Tisch, and just about everywhere in between.

My name is Jeff Ragazzini, I hail from Wilton, Connecticut, I am a Junior at Tufts studying Mechanical Engineering and also a member of the Tufts University Men’s Cross Country and Track and Field teams.  The goal of this blog is to offer prospective Jumbos another portal into the lives of Tufts University students like me.  Hopefully, I can help at least one reader discover how much s/he really likes what Tufts has to offer.  It was my firm belief three years ago that Tufts was the absolute best place to go to school, and I’m quite keen on keeping it that way for a long time to come.  That means I’m here to serve you!  If there is ever something you want to ask, talk about, have explained, bicker about, etc, please feel free to comment on any post and I’ll be sure to get to it lickety-split.  You’re also more than welcome to email me at Jeffrey.Ragazzini@tufts.edu with just about anything from the quality of last night’s Oreo Cream Pie to academic core requirements to the traditions of painting the cannon and sledding down the President’s Lawn.

To start off, I might as well tell you a little about myself.

Favorite Colors: Royal Blue and Orange (here and there)

Favorite Classes at Tufts:  Economics 5 and 11 (teaches you how to view daily decisions in economic terms and resources: what you have, what you want, what others want, and how to appease everyone involved), PE 150 (an introduction to massage therapy, speaks for itself), Engineering Science 9 (predicting the effects of compression, tension, twisting, bending, etc on physical objects like bars and beams)  Mechanical Engineering 1 (playing with the biggest drills I’ve ever seen, as well as using computer models to design and sketch structural pieces and subject them to given stresses to see whether or not they break)

Various Jobs (past and present):  Research technician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, product development intern at the Center for Engineering Educational Outreach at Tufts sponsored by LEGO, Tufts Admissions Office tour guide, computer lab user consultant, counselor at a high school running camp, bread salesman for a local bakery, and box-stacking slave at a running store back home.

Goals for this year: gain as much as I can from my classes and stay on the Dean’s List, grow closer to my teammates and classmates, help our team place top-3 in the DIII New England Regional Cross Country Championships in November, go an entire day without quoting Anchorman, and many others.

Aspirations post-Tufts: I know a lot of very specific things I’d love to do after Tufts.  The only problem is narrowing it down.  These include teaching high school physics, studying and eventually practicing physical therapy/sports medicine, enacting a comprehensive solution to our global carbon-dependance, operating an exercise science research laboratory, or maybe just bumming around at high-altitude and running semi-professionally (fat chance…)

If you’d like to read more about me, hit up the “ABOUT” tab in the top left!

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