P-P XC Sends Three Runners to Nationals: Annie Lydens PO ’13 places 9th, Charlie Enscoe PO ‘11 154th, Alex Johnson PZ ‘13 164th

With the temperature in the 30s and the sun shining flatly over the small town of Waverley, Iowa, the 2010 Pomona-Pitzer cross country season—along with the 2010 Division III cross country season at large—finally came to an end after two and a half months of training and racing.

Thirty-two teams and 279 individuals competed in both the men’s and the women’s races, with Haverford College winning the men’s team title and Middlebury College winning the women’s. Anders Hulleberg, a senior at Haverford, won the individual men’s title, and Wendy Pavlus, a senior at St. Lawrence University, repeated as women’s champion.

Although the men’s and women’s teams from Pomona-Pitzer failed to qualify for the national meet (the men last went in 2005, the women in 2008), three runners in all managed to make it individually.

At Regionals, Charlie Enscoe PO ’11 and Alex Johnson PZ ’13 placed 14th and 18th respectively to earn trips to Iowa. Less than an hour later, Annie Lydens PO ’13, in Salem without the rest of her team, won the West Region Championship, following in her coach’s footsteps. It would be all three runners’ first trips to nationals. On Thursday morning, Nov. 18, they and their coaches headed off for flights to the Midwest.

During their three-day stint in Iowa, the three runners and two coaches spent their time exploring the streets and restaurants of Waterloo and Waverley; attending an NCAA cross country banquet which included, unfortunately, at least one team of eight young men wearing matching and, again unfortunately, horribly patterned sweater vests; racing, apparently; and killing time with cards, Jacuzzis, and free cookies—the last two of which were thanks to the surprisingly swanky hotel the team shared with the men’s team runners up and, we think, some high school hockey team.

The races took place late Saturday morning and, although the sun was out, the temperature was cool; the wind biting. Runners from schools across the country—from Claremont, Calif. to New York, N.Y. to Atlanta, Ga. to Grand Rapids, Mich.—jogged along the exposed, wide grass course at Wartburg College, warming up for the last races of their seasons. The start line stretched 130 meters across. The finish line rested deceptively just beside it—but in reality, this line actually lay eight (or for the women, six) kilometers away from the start.

As the start of the race drew near, the male runners gravitated slowly toward their boxes on the start line while hundreds of spectators—a shocking number wearing nothing more than running shorts or colorfully-checkered spandex, their bodies painted with their respective schools’ colors and letters and mascots, wielding flags of varying sizes on long, bowing poles—moved aside and lined the 500-meter starting stretch of the course.

At 11 a.m., 279 runners from 81 different schools (32 teams plus 56 individuals) toed the line, and a split second before the sound of the starting gun reached their ears, upon seeing the cloud of smoke appear and begin immediately to dissipate, they were off.

The width of the course and competitiveness of the field meant that, as the runners passed the one-mile mark and through dense throngs of screaming, goose-bumped fans, the entirety of the field remained separated by less than 20 seconds. The pack pushed on up a gradual hill before heading left for the outer loop of the course, and the runners began to string out as the pace proved too quick for some.

As the harriers snaked their way along the winding course, approaching the end of their seasons—and, for some, the end of their cross country careers—one mile and one kilometer and one step at a time, hordes of fans ran about the open fields like packs of wild buffalo to watch the runners as they came by on different parts of the course, hurling words of encouragement at their teammates and friends.

Twenty-four minutes and 22 seconds after the starting gun sounded, the first runner crossed the line; exactly one minute later, the 88th runner finished, and after another minute 225 had completed the course; just under two minutes later, the last runner brought to completion the 2010 D-III men’s cross country season.

Enscoe and Johnson placed 154th and 164th respectively, making them the highest two P-P men’s finishers since Will Leer PO ’07 placed seventh in 2006. The teammates were a far cry from earning All-American honors (placing in the top 35), but Johnson at least will have two more opportunities to do so, and his finish as the 31st freshman or sophomore in the meet bodes well for his coming seasons.

The two had little time to rehydrate and reflect on their season before the start of the women’s race, which gave them an immediate and effective opportunity to live vicariously through teammate Annie Lydens’ success: the Sagehen ran a superb race, finishing ninth overall for the highest P-P women’s finish in school history. She was soon after awarded her second trophy of the weekend—for earning All-American, to go along with her West Region runner of the year award—and generously allowed her less-decorated teammates to share the same rental car on the ride back to the hotel and admire the hardware.

Stuck once again in Denver International Airport for a two-hour layover on the way back to Claremont, the runners sat and considered the trip to Iowa and the season as a whole that at once seemed to have passed so quickly and begun so long ago. Many goals were left unmet, but as a whole it still seemed a success, and as boarding began for the final leg of the trip home, the three runners decided with a definitive casualness that they should probably head to track and field nationals together in late May.

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