The members of the Pomona-Pitzer Men’s Cross Country team—known throughout its ever-growing legend simply as “PPXC”—have been training for months in preparation for the 2010 cross country season, putting in long hours, early mornings, and scorching-hot afternoons of miles upon miles all over the country, world, and even, some say, interstellar universe. Reunited finally in Claremont in late August, the intimidatingly fit and indisputably attractive men opened their season Sept. 11 at UC Irvine.
While the meet went well for the Sagecocks, it was something of a practice run in preparation for the UC Riverside Invitational Sept. 18, where the harriers ran with a passion that led Assistant Captain Paul Balmer PO ’14 to comment, “This race taught me that PPXC never dies, and that I’ll still be running up Mills Avenue tomorrow no matter what happens.”
The race produced 18 all-time personal best times for the eight-kilometer distance, including the seventh, eighth, and ninth fastest times ever run by PPXC runners on the Riverside course—which they’ve been running annually for the last 11 years. Last season, five members of the team covered the course’s entirety in less than 27 minutes; this year, nine managed the feat, led by a studly performance from Captain Charlie Enscoe PO ‘11.
Scott Humbarger PO ’12 neatly captured the feelings the heroic men experienced running so quickly so early on a Saturday.
“Riverside is a fast course. You start and end in the same place, but it feels like a net downhill. It felt great to break free on a Saturday morning and put the pedal to the floor,” he said, referencing, of course, not only his swift 26:40 time but also his van’s average speed of 83 miles per hour on the way to the meet (and, of course, The Mountain Goats).
Although PPXC finished far behind perennial SCIAC powerhouse CMS for the second week in a row, the time differentials between the top runners on each team marked a significant degree of progress for the Sagecocks. At Irvine, CMS’s top five harriers ran an average of 60 seconds faster than their tanner, flowingly haired counterparts; at Riverside the gap was narrowed to 35 seconds per runner.
More important, however, was the competitive spirit these fine men displayed. Jacob Brown PO ’13—not racing this weekend due to an injury incurred as a result of being “The Man”—watched the race unfold from the course’s periphery and poetically articulated what he saw: “They went out strongly, staying in a pack, working with each other, pushing each other, pacing each other, taking turns. Beautiful teamwork—makes me want to cry.”
Looking again at the numbers, the time gap between the team’s top 10 runners was a stunningly compact 1:11—compared to 2:39 last year and 2:50 the year before—a testament to their depth in talent, their camaraderie, and the intangible connection between runners who train together day in and day out.
Balmer, speaking beside the pool at his Southwestern Villa-style ranch house in nearby Montclair, stated animatedly, “I sometimes, in moments of elation or despair, not only fail to differentiate between the many autonomous individuals that make up PPXC, but lose track of my own identity among those of my teammates—like a particle of smog in the Southern California sunset, each particle unhealthy and the product of irresponsible, unsustainable processes, but together indistinguishable from one another and, what’s more, the reason for the stunningly beautiful sunsets we have here and so often fail to appreciate.”
A close-knit team, concisely put.