Roughly a week ago, on a Thursday morning, at the crack of dawn, I found myself, along with 15 groggy teammates and five coaches, at Logan airport, awaiting the plane that would take us to Minneapolis en route to Waverly, Iowa, home to Wartburg College and the NCAA Division III Cross-Country Championships. As you may recall from where Maggie left off, our women’s team qualified for nationals after placing fourth in New England, while the men’s team qualified with a decisive victory. It was less than a week later we found ourselves, at 6:30AM, at the beginning of the end, ready to make the trip we’d been preparing for all season.
A plane ride and a time zone change later, we found ourselves in Minneapolis:
There was snow! We’re definitely not in Boston anymore…
After a three hour drive, we made it to Waverly, just in time to check out the course before the sun set. (I’m going to refrain from the obvious commentary on the drive through Iowa-I come from a state that is also occasionally the butt of jokes so I won’t go there. Except to say that the radio station we were listening to on our drive down was called…KOWZ.)
Thursday night, the team enjoyed a meal at that most venerable of restaurants, the Olive Garden(there is something about the Olive Garden that draws cross-country teams like moths to a flame. Perhaps it’s because they’ve colonized all but the farthest reaches of our nation, inescapable no matter where we travel to. In any case, I’ve been to my fair share over the years…).
Claire ’14 and Logan ’13 await their pre-race pasta.
On Friday we went to the course again, just to give it another going over. This time we made time for a photo op:
The ladies at the course on Friday. In case you can’t tell, it was pretty cold.
Friday night brought the NCAA DIII XC banquet. It gave us an excuse to get all dressed up:
The ladies, always classy.
The guys. Apparently their outfits were the subject of quite the debate-this is in direct opposition to my previous claim. In any case, I have to say the grey sweaters turned out well.
And then, it was Saturday. Meet day! While the craziness (like Maggie talked about at regionals, only MORE) went on around us, and the guys team raced (they got 12th! first New England team!):
This is some serious dedication-remember how i said it was COLD?
We stayed inside and tried to stay calm:
Chilling, or as close as we could get to it, before the race.
This was it. I mean, this was IT. All those summer workouts, morning pool sessions, mile repeats, and chocolate milks, and we were finally here. This was why we showed up to practice every day at 5PM. This was why we gladly gave up our Saturdays, our Friday nights. The last chance for us to race together. Our chance to prove that we could survive MIT and succeed at cross-country at the same time. For me, a last race as an Engineer.
And what a race it was! The gun went off, and we ran. (I’m going to forgo the action shots, because let’s face it, nobody looks good when they’re racing). In a race as large as nationals, you can’t know what your teammates are doing; the field is so large and so clumped together that all you can do is hope to hear snatches of names as spectators cheer. But every person counts; any opponent you pass can make the difference between being on the podium or off. After a fourth place finish at regionals, only two points behind third, we knew this too well. You also can’t always know how you’ve finished, or how your team has done. As runners stream across the finish line, it is enough to try to find your teammates, to gather your exhausted crew and extract yourselves from the chaos that grows around the chute.
So when my parents and teammates and coaches found us, excited and saying something about 4th place, I was mostly confused and a little overwhelmed. But then I looked at the scoreboard:
The unofficial results!
And it was true! Unofficially, we were fourth! Better than last year, when we had been ranked higher, had had higher expectations going in. It took the length of our cooldown for it to sink in to me-we had made the podium!
But that wasn’t all-as we were sitting inside Wartburg’s gym, waiting for awards, one of our coaches came over and told us that after taking out individual places and recalculating, officially, we were third! Again, I didn’t quite believe it. But then the announcer was announcing places and suddenly fourth place was called and no MIT. So third it was!
The entire team, plus one very large trophy.
The freshman runner friends (now all grown up?) celebrate our last race together.
My parents! In high school, my dad never missed a meet and my mom volunteered at every home track meet, so it mean a lot for them to come out to my final race. It was also nice because they took home the stuff that wouldn’t fit in my suitcase on the way back (like my hardware).
But the day wasn’t done. Our tireless coaches drove us all the way back to Minneapolis, where we ate dinner at the Mall of America and celebrated a successful close to the season. (I’d like to take a moment here to thank Coach Taylor, Coach H, Coach Paterno, Coach Pete, and Coach Kate. Not only did they drive us all around Iowa and put up with our nonsense all weekend, but they worked harder then we did all season (and didn’t even get to race!). They are the reason we had such a good season, and perhaps more importantly, stayed sane while aquajogging. (which is saying a lot!))
The girls team went shopping. (what? there’s no Nordstrom in the city!)
The guys went on the spongebob roller coaster.
And then it was back to Boston. Up early again on Sunday morning, we returned to MIT, proud of our race (if not a little tired).
Photo credits, in order : Tania ’12, Gihan ’11, Tania ’12, Gihan ’11, Gihan ’11, Tania’s mom, Tania ’12, my dad,Tania’s mom, Gihan ’11,my dad, Tania ’12, Joe (CME). (social media and easy photo-sharing FTW).