The Mac Weekly runs in stride with women’s cross country

By Caitlin Opperman

The Macalester women’s cross country team wrapped up its season this past weekend at the NCAA Division III Central Region Championships in Waverly, Ia. The team placed 17th out of 27 teams but saw strong individual finishes from several runners. The Mac Weekly sat down with Emma Swinford ’12, Anna French ’13, Skyler Larrimore ’12, Devon Kristiansen ’12, Eliza Leahy ’12, and Coach Betsy Emerson to talk about the season and the team. TMW: Describe your fall season. Emma: Major improvement coming into the season and throughout the season. Lots of young talent. Coach Emerson: Overall I thought we had a successful 2011 season. We started with 40 women and 37 raced in the last meet at the Conference Championships. This alone says something about the commitment we had from our women to stay with the team throughout the season, and we were lucky to not lose many women to injury. In our Conference Championships we had 17 women run an all time personal best for their career and another 5 women race to a season PR. Having so many PRs at the end of the season is indicative of the hard work and dedication these women devoted to our season. Anna: This fall was a really fun season. For me personally, it was the first season that I actually started to enjoy racing. I have always liked running but wasn’t necessarily that into the competitive part. That definitely started to change this season. Emma: And we had beautiful weather! Anna: It was the first year that I have been on the team when we haven’t had to run a race in the snow. TMW: What were your goals (individually or as a team)? Coach Emerson: Our team certainly wanted to improve in our conference standings at the Championships meet, and we actually finished in the same place that we did last season. We felt that we could beat a few more teams in our conference and actually did that in a few early season meets but at the MIAC meet we were unable to finish ahead of them. With that said though, the women collectively ran much better than they did at that meet last year and certainly showed signs of overall improvement. Skyler: For each meet, we set a goal to increase our rank at the meet from the previous year. We also set a team goal to choose one rival for each meet to really make an effort to pass or compete with fiercely during the race. It’s easier to focus when you give yourself a trigger for really using all the effort you have. Coach Emerson: I think one major goal I had for the team was to see them get physically stronger and they definitely demonstrated that throughout the season with great help from Steve Murray and his assistants in our strength training. Anna: Also, as a team we really pride ourselves on having the most fun out of all the teams that we compete against, and I can say with confidence that we achieved that this season. TMW: What are you most proud of this season? Coach Emerson: The improvement of so many of our runners and their commitment to getting stronger and being more competitive in our meets. When I started coaching here last year I felt that this group of young women had no idea how good they could be – that they just needed to really find a way to tap into their potential as runners. I still feel that our team has a ways to go in terms of really being confident and realizing that they can not only be great students but they can be great runners as well at Macalester. I do think we are making progress! Anna: I would say that the MIAC conference race stands out as a super-proud moment. It was a really inspiring day, over half of the women on the team ran either all-time or season PRs which is a big achievement. TMW: What was the toughest course? Coach Emerson: That’s a tricky one because what one runner deems tough another may really like. In some ways I think the course we run at Como Golf Course for Conference is very tough because it has some tight turns and a good hill and there is a bit more pressure in that race. I also think for some, the course we ran for Regionals in Waverly, IA is tough because it is flat and essentially cut out of a big alfalfa field, and there are really long straightaway stretches at the start and finish and no hills to speak of. Some runners don’t do well with those courses at all, they’d rather have lots of hills. Anna: The toughest course was definitely Griak at the U of M. So many switchbacks and rolling hills that never stop. The whole time I was just thinking about all the ice cream I was going to eat later! I’m glad there’s only one more time that I ever have to run that course. Emma and Eliza: The Griak course at the University of Minnesota is notoriously hilly, but the nice thing is that it’s a huge meet and really close so there are lots of fans – the atmosphere makes up for the hills! TMW: What don’t most people know about the women’s cross country team? Emma: We have the stinkiest locker room on campus, and we’re proud of it! Anna: I don’t know if people know how much we like to dance and how much Top-40 we listen to, but we do both a lot! Also we love talking about our guns, let me tell you- they are HUGE. Coach Emerson: They also may not know that not only are they dedicated runners but outstanding students as a whole and that last year they had the highest Team GPA for a women’s team on campus! Although I think it is quite apparent whenever I am with my team, most people may not realize how much the CC women love and respect one another and how much they love being on this team. TMW: What’s the best part of being on the team? Skyler: There’s so much laugher and good energy when we all get together for practice. Anna: The best part is definitely having time set aside every day to go run around and play outside in the fresh air, and getting to hang out with really funny and interesting women. Some of the most memorable conversations I’ve had at college have been during a run with teammates. Skyler: There is a huge sense of pride that we accumulate as a group over the season as well. Collectively, we help each other get through tough workouts and races, and by the end of the season everyone has become stronger and faster than at the start of the season. TMW: What are some of your team traditions (that you can share)? Skyler: During preseason we have a costumed scavenger hunt and a goddess ceremony down by the river. We put on temporary tattoos as a pre-race pump-up. And mooning. Sometimes naked running. Anna: Other Mac Weekly-appropriate traditions are pasta dinners before big races, scavenger hunts, and a team talent show. Skyler: Every season we go on a rainbow run during National Coming Out Week. We all pick a color, wear it from head to toe, and line up in ROYGBIV order. We take lots of funny pictures and go on a run on and off campus, exclaiming “Happy Coming Out Week” to everyone we pass. Anna: Rainbow run day is really the only day when we appreciate cars honking at us. [laughs] TMW: Have you had any funny moments while racing? Devon: At conference last year, someone’s parents (from another team) were dressed up as superheroes and running around to cheer at different points of the course. Anna: Once in high school my shoe came untied and it was a really muddy day- my shoe got stuck in the mud so I finished the last mile of the race with one shoe. Also, one time a teammate of mine accidentally spit on another runner during the race which was pretty hilarious. Devon: Not much else during a race really strikes you as funny when you’re using all your strength to race, but it can still feel joyful if you have the right attitude combined with a feeling of strength during the race. TMW: What are your pre-meet rituals? Skyler and Devon: The morning of a meet, after we’ve done warm-ups, we gather in a ring on the field and do “the jig”. If you’ve ever been to a soccer game, you know what “the jig” is. Then we chant M-A-C-A-L-E-S-T-E-R, and just minutes before the race, we chant “Scots” to the tune of “Shots.” Anna: For some reason I always wear the same pair of socks while racing. My mom gave them to me for Valentine’s Day one year. They used to be pink, but I’ve run s
o many races in them now that they turned a really weird brown-ish color… TMW: Steve Prefontaine once said, “You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” Why do you keep running? Eliza: Everyone comes to the team running for different reasons – competition, the team environment, health, a desire to try something new. Emma: Running gives me a sense of self and purpose and confidence and it’s fantastic to be surrounded by a group of spunky, empowered women who push their limits every day. Anna: Well I am not anywhere near as prolific as Pre, but I definitely wonder the same thing a lot. I think for me it has to do with loving to push myself and see what my body can do. Also, endorphins are great. I’d go crazy if I had to sit all day during school and didn’t get to run around all! TMW: What will you remember most about Mac cross country? Emma and Eliza: Beautiful fall runs along the river, FREE BAGELS, post-race camaraderie and bumping into Mac runners on campus every ten minutes!