Oct. 1 was just a normal Saturday in the Inland Empire. The mercury climbed to 85 degrees by 7:30 a.m., with enough humidity to ensure that even early-morning video gamers felt the tickle of sweat on their brows. Thick clouds of smog retreated with the day as the sun carved out a clear view of Mount Baldy.
Standing in a pungent cloud of a different kind by the Farm, 201 women, from SCIAC runners to Division I competitors, prepared themselves for the six-kilometer race that many wished they could have slept through: the third annual Pomona-Pitzer Invitational. The notoriously difficult course comprises 3.7 miles of hairpin turns, long sloping hills, and sections so narrow that women have been known to jump over bushes in order to maintain competitive positions. Not to mention the stretches of sand deep enough to twist an ankle and dust clouds so heavy people finish the course with skin nearly as tan as Snooki’s.
At 8:15 last Saturday morning, these 201 runners moved, albeit slowly at first, toward their designated starting boxes. Wide-eyed and severe, ponytails tied tight and numbers pinned onto left hips, many racers were out for blood. Some were even willing to throw the occasional rib jab or tread on a competitor’s heel for a little extra edge.
In Box 15, however, a different scene played out.
“Alright ladies,” Annie Lydens PO ’13 shouted from the center of a mass of orange shorts, “what do we race for?”
The ladies huddled in close for one final pre-race ritual. Lydens led the group in a savage chirp before the announcer called racers to attention. 8:30 had arrived, and it was time to run. A flag, a gun, the melody of Morse-like clicks from hundreds of watches: the race was on.
The women took off, charging across the soccer field, through the middle of the track infield, and away from the manicured grass in favor of loose dirt and rocks.
“It felt like we were going through a volcano at some points,” Ilona Kats PO ’12 coughed. “Especially around the edges of the soccer fields, I couldn’t even see the people in front of me.”
Indeed, Kats was not alone in her frustration. Clouds of dust provided a surprising twist to an already difficult course.
“I mean, it was funny to check out how brown everyone’s teeth were by the end of the race,” Claire “Big B” Brickson PO ’14 said, “but with such narrow trails, and rocks and things, it definitely added an extra challenge to the day.”
Racing through an apocalyptic dustbowl, the women ran below the farm, taking a sharp turn before diving into an aromatic overload by the outdoor classroom. Chicken dander, compost, and freshly cut grass filled the runners’ noses.
It was at this point, nearly in line with the headless statue of Pomona’s namesake, that racers began to feel the strain of a mostly uphill battle.
“After that first 1,000-meter segment, I started thinking about how far we were going to be running,” Megan “The Hulk” Farrell PO ’13 said. “We’d run through the honeymoon stage and the length of the race sort of began to sink in. It was going to be a brutal one.”
Farrell was not the only one to feel the mental burn of the race.
“This is a course that mentally breaks runners,” Lydens commented. “It’s a combination of the hills and the fact that we run the same loop three times. It’s rough.”
Despite the challenges posed by the intricacies of the course, the Hens came out on top. Annie Lydens, already in the middle of an epic season, killed the course record, unseating the previous record-holder by over a minute and charting the fastest 6K time in school history. She crossed the finish line in 21:03.9 to finish first, nearly seven seconds ahead of any other competitors. Lydens was named SCIAC Female Athlete of the Week on Monday.
Following Lydens and contributing to the PPXC women’s team score were Brickson in 23:06, followed by Kayla “Kandi” Eland PZ ’12 in 24:00, Naomi Wagner PO ’13 in 24:04, and Leslie Canter PZ ’12 in 24:10.
The Sagehens finished sixth at the invitational behind Cal State San Marcos, Cal Poly Pomona, Westmont, Whittier, and Occidental. The Hens scored third among SCIAC teams, seven points short of Whittier and one point behind Oxy.
The Sagehen women now have their sights set on the competition at the upcoming SCIAC Multi-Dual meet on Oct. 15 at La Mirada Park.