Tales from the road: Duquesne athletes share their travels
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 23:09
Hello all. I’m Jim Spisak, a senior on the men’s cross country team here at Duquesne. I’ll be taking you through last weekend’s trip to the National Catholic Invitational at the University of Notre Dame.
The trip started on a positive note when we discovered that we’d be traveling in a bus instead of the cramped 12 person white vans that we’ve grown accustomed to. We arrived at our hotel around 11 p.m. on Thursday and headed to bed to get some rest for the next day.
The National Catholic Invitational posed a bit of a change in our usual race routine, as the races were held in the afternoon instead of the morning. Upon waking up, we did a brief shake-out run and headed for breakfast in the hotel. The breakfast buffet satisfied all of us, especially red shirt freshman Bob Gasior, who was impressed that they had both sausage and bacon, something that he said Towers never has. After eating, we had a few hours to kill in the hotel before heading over to the course. About half of the men's team passed this time by watching Gangland, a staple in the Duquesne distance running pre-race routine. There’s a Gangland marathon every Friday, which is usually when we are hanging out in the hotel before a meet. We ended up running well in outdoor track after watching all day, so we’ve kept the ritual. It’s a good way to keep our minds off of racing and the nerves that go with it.
Around 1 p.m., we took the short ride to the Notre Dame golf course, where the race was being held. College cross country races are run over various terrain, with the men usually racing 8 kilometers (4.97 miles) and the women racing 5 kilometers (3.14 miles). The course at Notre Dame is primarily grass and basically all flat.
Upon arrival at the course, we set up shop under a tree near the starting line and relaxed. I feel like our team is a relatively loose bunch, and I think we do a good job of not getting too worked up or nervous before racing. Our coaches understand that we all have an idea of what we need to do in the race and that the training that we’ve done is what dictates how we’ll run, not motivational rhetoric, so they are relatively hands-off beforehand.
The first race of the day was the open race for runners not in the varsity race, and Jon McElwain led Duquesne with a fifth-place finish. Jon also managed to acquire some warm up gear from another team at the meet, but I can’t really delve into that too much. The women’s varsity race followed; Duquesne finished in a strong second behind Notre Dame and Amber Valimont led the charge in second place.
Soon after the women finished, I set out to warm up with my eight teammates for the varsity race. There was a sense of excitement in the group, as the good weather and flat course provided a good opportunity to run some fast times. Also, the meet provided some good competition from schools such as our Atlantic 10 rivals Dayton and Xavier, as well as Marquette and nationally ranked Notre Dame. Soon we found ourselves on the line with 250 other runners, anxiously awaiting the starting gun. I quickly found myself in the lead, which went against my original strategy, but racing rarely goes completely according to plan. I led through 2 miles before being joined by several other runners. The lead pack of four of us passed the three mile mark in 14:30.
In the last mile, Jeremy Rae of Notre Dame opened up a gap and took the win in 24:16, earning the title of best Catholic on the day. While I struggled in third with a time of 24:30. I’m a bit disappointed I wasn’t able to hang on for second place and didn’t have a stronger last mile, but I was still able to beat some good runners and ran a personal best time. Even better was how my teammates ran, especially Chuck Lockwood and Alex Woodrow, who finished in ninth and 15th place respectively, both running big personal bests. We ended up finishing second as a team behind Notre Dame.
Highlights of the long ride home included a stop at Wendy’s, which is our coach Jim Lear’s favorite restaurant of all time, and the team breaking out a plethora of flannels for Flannel Friday. Students, remember to break out your flannels every week for Flannel Friday. You get a pass for not participating when it was in the 90s, but there is no excuse with the temperatures cooling down now.
I think the meet was a good step in the right direction for our team. It served as a good transition from our low-key season opening meet to the bigger races that are to come later in the season. The meet gave us an idea of where we are at as a team and, while positive, reminded us of the training we need to put in to meet our goals for the upcoming meets. Individually, I was not satisfied with my race, but it is a step in the right direction and I’ll take it for this early in the season.