In her first ever six kilometer cross country race, Kimber Meyer ’17 (Naperville, Ill.) placed first overall out of 56 runners at the Crown College Storm Invitational on Sept. 7, spearheading a definitive victory for the women’s cross country team. Meyer’s strong finish was followed by similarly impressive performances from several other team members, including Mira Ensley-Field ’17 (Appleton, Wis.) and Anna Schmitz ’14 (St. Paul, Minn.) who finished in second and third place, respectively.
With 14 first-years and 13 seniors on the roster, the women’s cross country team is gearing up for what could be a quite formative 2013 season. Both the athletes and coaching staff—led by 4th year coach Betsy Emerson—have high expectations that this year’s squad will surpass the 8th place finish (of 12 teams) the team recorded at last year’s MIAC Championships and build a strong core of runners going forward.
“We’re progressing a lot, and we could surprise some other teams in the conference this season,” said Meyer. “We have a really talented freshman class coming in, and an … amazing senior class.”
Senior captains, Schmitz and Lucy Andrews ’14 (Plymouth, Minn.) believe that the team could place among the top six at the MIAC championships this season. With the win at the Crown invitational, a third place finish at the Sept. 14 Luther All American Race and a narrow loss to perennial division contender St. Olaf in an Aug. 30 4k time trial, the team is well on its way to doing so.
“We’re holding our own against teams that we haven’t recently been able to compete with,” Andrews said, noting that Macalester “handily” defeated Hamline, a team that the Scots lost to in last year’s MIAC championships, by a score of 60 – 97 at the Luther race.
The incoming first-year class has brought a focused energy to a program that, despite moderate success in recent years, has not won a national championship berth since 2005. Coach Emerson has noticed a “huge amount of enthusiasm and focus in [the team’s] training on the roads, on the track and in the weight room.” While she recognizes that building a successful cross country program takes time, Emerson believes that some of the new first-year runners could “develop into being the kind of runner that could contend for a national championship berth individually.”
Fostering a Cross Country Culture
With three meets already under its belt, the team is beginning to coalesce into a strong unit of motivated and energetic runners, thanks in part to a formidable coaching staff and committed senior leadership. But for most runners, the formation of a tight-knit women’s cross country team started well before the first race of the season.
Team leadership focused on team bonding with a summer backpacking trip before pre-season, which proved to be a “cool way to get to know people in a non-competitive environment,” according to Andrews. In addition, seniors sent out a summer email chain that asked first-years questions about their running careers, as well as other less serious questions about topics such as their favorite ice cream flavors or guilty-pleasure television shows. Once at Macalester, runners were divided into “wolf packs,” groups that spanned across different grade levels and gave first-year runners the opportunity to work with and periodically check in with more experienced runners in a smaller group setting.
“The nice thing about running is that you have a lot of time to talk to people,” Schmitz said. However, conversation does not end when practices and meets do. Off the course, team leadership has focused on several team-wide discussions around the difficult concept of body image in women’s endurance sports like cross country, with the hope to instill a culture of and focus on “strength” and “empowerment” amongst the runners. The team met with Stephanie Walters, Medical Director of the Health and Wellness Center, to discuss issues of iron deficiency, eating disorders, and appropriate terminology with which to describe one another’s bodies, among other things. The team has also trained extensively in the weight room with Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Steve Murray. Use of the appropriate terminology is especially important when it comes to talking about women’s long distance running. According to Schmitz, team leadership has focused on “creating an atmosphere where … [body image] is a topic that’s comfortable to discuss.”
Such conversations have been received well by new runners like Elena Torry-Schrag ’17 (Forest Grove, Ore.). “The women’s cross country team is super empowering,” she said. “We talk a lot about body image and ‘positive self talk,’ and refer to each other as ‘women’ instead of ‘ladies’ or ‘girls’…We talk about how ‘strong’ we look, instead of [saying] ‘you look good.’ I just wrote a [psychology paper] … about how cross country has helped me with body image ideas, so I’ve been thinking about that a lot.”
Building Up to Conference
With no meet this weekend, the women’s cross country team is preparing for the Roy Griak Invitational at the University of Minnesota’s Leo Bolstad Golf Course on Sept. 28. This 6k meet involves separate races for Division I, II and III. According to Andrews, it is “the first 6k that feels competitive and hard.”
According to Coach Emerson, teams look their best at Griak, often peaking around this race. “Oftentimes teams will race their best there—they’ll look great—and then a month from then, at conference or regionals, they just don’t look like the same team anymore,” she said.
Emerson maintains a philosophy, therefore, that her runners and teams should try to continuously build up throughout the season so that they are running their best times by the MIAC Championships on Nov. 2. After Griak, the team will have just two races in October—the St. Catherine Invitational on Oct. 12 and the UW-LaCrosse Tori Neubauer Invitational on Oct. 19.
While Emerson holds her runners to high standards of athletic performance, she understands that, ultimately, they matriculated to Macalester because of the academic opportunities offered. “They’re incredibly smart women, they’re very good runners, they’re involved in a lot of other things, they’re that quintessential kind of division three athlete,” she said. “That’s one thing that I absolutely love about being here […] knowing these women and getting to talk to them and their experiences, living vicariously through their travels and what they do— that really is special to me; it’s unique and truly one of the things I love most about this job here and coaching them,” Emerson said.