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Men’s cross-country continues conference win record

The 2016-17 men’s cross country team celebrates their 19th consecutive win.

By Philip Kiely

Just days before men’s cross country team won the Midwest Conference Championship, runner Anthony McLean ’17 was not sure he would be able to compete due to his debilitating pneumonia. The 8,000-meter course is challenging for even top athletes, who usually clock in at 26 minutes. Despite his health, McLean still was able to finish second for the team and fifth overall in 26 minutes and 36 seconds.

“A mile into the race I was kind of falling off, and I was passed by my teammate, Matt [McCarthy ’17], at which point I just followed him, he pulled me along for the rest of the race,” McLean said.

This team unity certainly contributed to the team’s performance when they won the Midwest Conference Championship in last Saturday, Oct. 29 in Beloit, WI. This is the nineteenth time that the Pioneers have won the conference in the last 20 years.

“The conference meet is our focus every year,” said Head Coach William Freeman.

This year their focus once again paid off as the team won by 50 points, with a total score of 33.

“We had a 28 second range from one to five, which is remarkable. … [It] just shows how well those guys hit on that weekend,” Freeman said. “I think the conference underestimated us and we probably overestimated the conference.”

The team has been training together for 22 weeks in preparation for the conference, so when they arrived in Beloit, they were ready to go.

“Race day was a little hotter than we expected, but the course was great. It was basically a grass drag, no real hills,” said runner Pieter Hansen ’19.

Hansen took eleventh place with a time of 26 minutes and 43.7 seconds.

“I think that a truly remarkable performance was Anthony McLean. … It was just wait and see if he would be able to run at all, and we just went under the assumption that no, he wouldn’t, and yet, when the meet came around, … [he] said ‘I’ll run, as long as I’m helping the team I’ll stay in the race,’” Freeman said.

The 2016-17 men's cross country team celebrates their 19th consecutive win.
The 2016-17 men’s cross country team celebrates their 19th consecutive win. Contributed photo.

Freeman also saw that the whole event was an exercise in teamwork for the runners.

“When the gun goes off, it’s time to execute the plan and trust the training. … They’re running for something greater than themselves on that day, it’s all about the team,” Freeman said.

Simultaneously, the runners give credit to their coach for their win.

“Our coach is … experienced at getting his athletes at their peak athletic performance in time for the meet. In years previous, we ended up peaking when a lot of other teams were not quite there,” McLean said.

Peaking refers to situations when an athlete is fully trained, in the best shape possible and well-rested in time for competition. Thus, in the week preceding a championship event, the training is very different.

“It’s good science. Over 22 weeks we’re progressively loading the system to adapt so that we can do more and more and more, i.e. run longer and faster,” Freeman said. “You want to have appropriate stimulus late, but it’s got to be a very high quality stimulus and not a lot of it.”

The team is back to full intensity practice as they prepare for NCAA regionals in Northfield, MN. on Nov. 12.

“We do run the NCAA regional … and on occasion we’ll qualify a team or individuals to the national meet,” Freeman said.

There is a slight chance that the team could go to nationals if they put out another extraordinary performance at the regional meet.

“It’s not extremely likely but it’s still possible,” McLean said.

Either way, the head coach and the runners are pleased with the season so far.

“I couldn’t be happier with the team. They’re a very close knit team and most all of them are returning next year, so I think that it’s looking good for cross country at Grinnell,” Freeman said.

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