Cross Country Visits Lehigh for Paul Short Run
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany cross country program returns to action this weekend at Lehigh’s Paul Short Invitational following a three-week training block.
Last time out, the Great Danes visited UMass Lowell’s home course at Mine Falls Park in Nashua, N.H. for the America East Pre-Conference meet to experience the 2018 conference championship course. Behind Hannah Reinhardt and Victor Ortiz Rivera, who claimed individual victories in the women’s and the men’s races, respectively, for the second straight week, the women placed first overall and the men placed third.
“The takeaway so far is that we’ve established current levels of fitness for everyone.,” said head coach Matt Jones. “When you run the first meet and you haven’t had one in a while, you get some information. This time around the information was a little bit more precise. We were also on the conference course, so we learned a little bit about what that surface is like to run on, and we ran very fast and very well. In a lot of ways that surface runs like a track instead of a grass cross country course. There are hard, packed down trails, so for a track-type athlete it was pretty good.”
The team has spent the past three weeks since the last meet in a long training cycle. With two meets in the books, Coach Jones has been able to gather more information on how to best use the longest training block of the season. And now that the student-athletes have fallen into more of a routine balancing classwork and training, the work can become more efficient and effective.
“My two basic goals are always to stay healthy and improve,” said Jones. “Now that we’re more into our routine, we have a better grip on that. Getting ready for this weekend is critical for some more than others is because the women go from 5K to 6K, which is the distance run at the Regional Championship. If someone is going to have a chance to make it to nationals they need to be efficient at this distance. In building the schedule, there is a purpose for everything we do. We build the schedule around the people we have running to enhance their development. It will be interesting to see how the women transition from 5K to 6K. Everything is still a progression. We need to establish where we are and try to gradually move it forward.”
The performances at the Pre-Conference meet, two individual victories and the women’s team title, in addition to two program records, provide encouragement for a return to the same course later in the season for the championship meet. However, with the two visits to the course coming two months apart, there are uncontrollable factors, such as weather conditions, that make projecting forward based on previous performances difficult.
“There is an excitement factor about returning to a course later in the season,” said Jones. “But history tells me that anytime you run a pre-championship meet, the weather and the surface can change drastically. We had a great Pre-Conference meet at Vermont a year ago, but the performances did not correlate to championship meet eight weeks later. Hopefully our fitness will allow us to run faster when we return to the championship course in a month, but that’s not a guarantee. We even went back to Vermont this fall for our opener, and it was an entirely different run all three times we went there.”
At the Pre-Conference Meet, Reinhardt set the program record for a 5K course by average mile time, finishing in 17:02.0 for an average mile time of 5:28.7, surpassing the previous mark of 16:44.35 with a 5:29.19 average mile set by Brittney Lane in 2012 on a 4.91K course, and improving on her own personal best at the distance by more than 30 seconds. Behind Reinhardt, the women’s team collectively with a top-five average of 17:50.6, a program record.
“Hannah and Cara are experienced runners, and have more confidence through their success,” said Jones. “They will keep developing as long as they stay healthy. The other three are still figuring it out. Noreen is a freshman, Kaylah is a sophomore who was injured last fall and is making a great transition to cross country but I think sees herself more as a track athlete, and Kelly is a sophomore transfer from Rhode Island and is also making a transition to our system. But they’re all using each other to work together, trying to minimize that gap one-to-five. I think each one of them is working on different things.”
This weekend marks the first time this season that the women will race at the 6K distance, which is the distance they will race at the Northeast Regional Championship meet in November. While the men’s race at regionals will also increase, from 8K to 10K, they will not have an opportunity to compete at that distance before regionals.
“Increasing distance means concentrating and racing longer,” said Jones. “It’s not about their ability, physically. It’s more about energy expenditure to account for that extra 1K, that extra three-and-a-half minutes of racing. A lot of it is concentration and keeping your head in the game. That’s the true challenge.”
The Paul Short Run is unique on the schedule in the fact that the race divisions feature the largest number of competitors, about 40 teams and 400 runners each, of the season. Where other races during the season can become spread out, with so many competitors in a race there will almost always be someone to run with for the full duration of the course, which can lead to improvements in finishing times, as the Great Danes have seen at this meet specifically in the last few years.
“I think it’s more the competition than the course that brings out our better performances,” said Jones. “You’re looking at 400 or more competitors in each race. And we know the course narrows so we have to get out early. It doesn’t matter where you are, with that many competitors in the race you’re going to have people pushing and pulling you the entire distance. That just adds to the success of the course. The course itself runs fast, and athletic competition breeds improvement. And our group steps up to the challenge of better competition. You might call this week the true beginning of the competitive season.”
“Early in the year, training will be more important than racing,” Jones continued. “But as we get through the year, the racing becomes more important than the training. It’s about where you put your energy.“
Looking ahead to this weekend’s meet, the goals for the men and the women are slightly different based on the makeup of the teams Coach Jones will field and the different dynamic the women will experience with the change in distance for the first time this season.
“On the men’s side, we need to see how close we can keep the group of five,” said Jones. “Our success will be how well they can run as a group and stay together. For the women, we’re in position to make a nice move. I think we can have a great outing at 6K, and it’s as close as we come to getting experience for Buffalo and the Regional meet later in the year. And even if it just helps us get better at 5K for conference championships, that’s good too. They’re all progressing; we just want to stay healthy.”
Both the women and the men will compete in the highest-tier Gold Division race this weekend. Each field will include three America East opponents. Among 41 women’s teams, three, New Hampshire, UMass Lowell, and Vermont are from the America East, and among 43 men’s teams, four, New Hampshire, UMass Lowell, UMBC, and Vermont are from the America East. The women will see New Hampshire, five-time defending America East champion, and the men will see New Hampshire and UMBC, for the first time this season. Beyond their America East competition, the women’s Gold Division features two nationally and 22 regionally ranked teams, and the men’s Gold Division features 18 regionally ranked teams, based on the most recent polls.
“Some of our America East competition listed this weekend may be focusing on the Pre-Nationals meet, which I think is next weekend, so I’m not sure who we’ll see this weekend,” said Jones. “But this meet usually shows us where we stack up against our competition in the conference. And that’s a good way to set goals for what’s coming in a month at the championship meet. Vermont is a team we’ll be in a battle with on the men’s side, and the women I think are one of five teams that will be in the mix at championships. It will be a good way to see where we size up in relation to them and then set some more goals to move forward.”
The men’s race begins at 11:00 a.m. and the women’s race begins at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, September 29.