Off The Beaten Path
Senior Shannon Murakami, junior David McDonald and coaches Forest Braden and Johnny Gray will be giving fans a behind-the-scenes look at Bruin cross country throughout the season.
Hey Bruins, I'm back again for the third installment of "Off the Beaten Path." Our newest adventure took us over to South Bend, Indiana for the Notre Dame Invite. Thankfully, we were blessed with sunshine and warm weather, something usually uncharacteristic of Indiana in October. As I sit on the plane with Allie Lopez snacking on sweet tarts and sour worms I can only think to myself, "What a great weekend!" Thursday on our pre-race run, Kent Morikawa entertained the team with hilarious antics and impressions as we previewed the race course. Friday, we ran a solid race and the men improved upon their #30 national ranking. Then Saturday we chased the sun west on a long trip back to California.
Our relaxation the day before a race is key to our focus for big races. This team works well with each other because of our ability to escape the intense nerves until the last possible moment. After our Thursday warm-up run we decided to check out the sights on the "Fightin' Irish" campus. The highlight of our "tour" being the campus cathedral, filled with huge embellishments, amazing paintings and vast sculptures. After our run and the hour of walking around the campus we decided to stop off at the student union for some mint gelato and snack before heading back to our hotel and eventually off to dinner. A dinner in which we had to forcefully sit directly across from our biggest rivals (besides the school who shall not be named), the Oregon Ducks. After a delicious, carb-filled dinner and team meeting to go over strategy, it was off to bed early to rest up for the task at hand. Overnight the smiley team of jokesters transformed into a bunch of straight-faced men with a goal in mind and a careful watch on the competition.
While I may currently be cruising at 35,000 feet, 24 hours and 56 short minutes ago I was toeing a white painted line anticipating the start of my third race in my third season of cross country at UCLA. With my stomach full of butterflies and my eye on the starting gun, my brain thinks just as fast as my heart beats. Visions of the home stretch and the sounds of inspirational songs pair up to create a nostalgic peace of mind while silencing the cheers of sidelined fans. The massive built up pressure vanishes faster than the bread on the table of our pre-race dinners as I return to reality of the contest. We were off, barreling down the opening stretch, elbowing and shoving other teams to claim our positions in the pack. This race was the first time this season that we did not race in the morning which had a huge impact on the outcome of the race, making the athletes a little more tired than usual. At least that's how I feel in afternoon races. In the opening mile we established great position with all seven bruins running strong in the front pack. The first three miles of a cross country race are all about keeping in contact with the main pack without running out of energy. The final two miles is where the true race unfolds. This past weekend, Coach Forest's focus was to push harder in the closing miles of the race in order to pick up valuable points by passing slower moving, tired, athletes. Every runner on the UCLA team did their best to follow this race plan. Most notably was Dylan Knight passing a Notre Dame athlete at the very last second of the race, giving us 6th-place and the edge over the Fighting Irish 205 - 206. Although Nohe Lema was hindered by an intense fever he still fought hard and scored for the team down to the last inch of the race. He worked so hard in the race that afterwards he could barely walk and needed assistance just to get back to the car. Thankfully he has recovered fully and is ready to go. With a weekend off from racing, Coach Forest has deemed this week "Hell Week" in order to get ready for the Pre-National race in Terre Haute, Indiana next Saturday (Oct. 16).
This week's three shout-outs go to Kyle and Drew Shackleton who competed at USA Marathon Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota this past weekend. These former Bruins who I learned a lot from my freshman year showed just how strong they are with Drew placing 5th in 2 hours 16 minutes and 31 seconds and twin brother Kyle finishing in 14th at 2 hours 22 minutes and 42 seconds. The third shout-out goes to 5th year senior Alex Crabill, who is studying for the quarter at Georgetown University before his final season as a Bruin. He competed in the Berlin Marathon and finished in 2:20:38, placing 20th overall and firstst for any American in the race. Great Job Bruin Marathoners!
Time to go hit the miles!
Our team is finally back from Indiana, and happy to be home in LA. Although, I would have been happier coming home to the normal 80 degree UCLA weather instead of the cold, rainy weather. However, I came back from the meet tired, happy and ready to take a weekend off from competing. We flew out for the Notre Dame Invitational in South Bend, Indiana on Wednesday. We got in super late, but it wasn't too bad considering the fact that it was only 9:00 at home. The next day, the whole team did their best to adjust to the time change and prepare for the race. We ran the course as pre-meet preparation, and then toured the campus. The football stadium and chapel were my favorite parts of the campus. It was GORGEOUS, especially with the leaves changing to orange and yellow. We had our pre-race pasta dinner (salmon for me haha), and got to bed as early as possible.
The next day we woke up, did an easy 1-2 mile shake-out run, grabbed breakfast and hung out most of the day. Since our race was not until the late afternoon, we had the majority of the day to sit around the hotel and hang out. Thankfully, we didn't get to be too lazy because we left for the course a little before 3 pm. The weather conditions were pretty good when we got to the course. We found a place to "set up camp" and hang out before warm-up. Out of all the places we could have chosen, we picked the one tree that had no leaves and provided little shade. I named our tree Frederick, and Allie Lopez decorated it with some of our name tags and our student trainer, Josh, put his jacket on the little tree. Oddly enough, it helped me relax because it took my mind off the race and made me laugh.
After that, we went through drills and warmed up as a team, which seemed to fly by and next thing I knew I was on the line getting ready to race. The field of competition was fantastic. We had multiple ranked teams on the line with us, and considering it was a pretty small race, it was a pretty deep field. We had 2009 NCAA champs, Villanova, as well as 2008 NCAA champs, Washington, on the lines with us. We also had teams like Oregon, Florida State, Notre Dame and other nationally ranked teams in our race. However, it seemed that as nervous as our girls were, it didn't matter who was on the line or what they were ranked, we were going to do what we could to beat as many teams as possible. The gun went off and we were off. The course is figure-eight shape with another loop in the middle. When you first get off the line though, the course makes a right turn after about 200 meters. This is the worst part of the race because the field of about 200 runners is narrowed down into a little path. This means shoving, hitting, getting spiked, competitors tripping and pulling people down with them. Basically, any act to get you further down the course with as little bodily harm as possible is fair game to a reasonable extent. If you get tripped, you are basically gone after getting stepped on and trampled, so if you do go down, you have to get up as quickly as possible and keep running. After that, the race went pretty smooth with the exception of the occasional shove or two. However, our team managed to get through the race unscathed and ran great. Everyone ran great, and I was extremely excited to see Paisley Pettaway (one of our middle distance girls) racing for the first time in a UCLA uniform and running extremely well. I finished 18th overall and ran faster than I had the year before, so I was happy (although never content). The 5K distance seemed to be loved by our team, rather than our usual 6K distance. I was really happy that everyone ran well. We all cooled down together, saw a groundhog (which was originally mistaken for a beaver), and cheered on the men's team. We finished 12th overall, and beat a few nationally ranked teams which was great for us. I think everyone was pretty happy with the outcome of the meet.
We headed back to the hotel, and ended up going to the mall to eat dinner and those of us who went ended up getting pizza and pasta - the perfect post-race meal. The next day we got to run around the campus one last time, and then we packed up and left. We had a three-hour lay-over in Chicago where our team played a small game of mafia, and then we headed home. We get a weekend off from racing and then we're back in Indiana for Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Indiana.
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