Senior and junior cross country athletes conclude season 47th and 128th among estimated 6,000 NCAA DIII runners
Photos by: Bill Howells
ELSAH, Ill. - When senior Julissa Tobias and junior Julian Sandoval left their hotel Saturday morning for a country drive to Principia College, Elsah, Illinois, it was a humid 68 degrees with little wind. Soon after arrival at the college's famed North Farms Cross Country Course, a course carved out of bean fields and hilly timber land, the pair experienced a classic Midwestern warm-front / cold-front shift dropping temperatures to 42 degrees with a wind chill of 34 degrees.
"We entered the college's indoor track facility upon arrival, warm and sweaty," stated Coach Greg Phillips. "When we exited the facility to go to the check-in area at the course, it was cold, rainy, and a 25 mph wind gusting to 40 mph." The weather changed that fast. The clouds were near the ground and our two California runners couldn't help but think tornado, but there were no tornado warnings. Because there was no lighting or tornados in the forecast, by rule, the races would not be delayed. The races would go off on schedule as all runners scrambled to decide how to best conclude warm-ups, in the wind and rain, and how best to dress to race, i.e., for cold, rain, wind, or all. Many had prepared for the warm, humid conditions a short time ago. "The rain was falling sideways during the women's race and it hurt hitting exposed skin because the sleet were mixed with the rain," reported Phillips. Race photos show 8-foot flag poles, used to mark the course, bent over beyond 45 degree angles to the ground. Conditions were bad for the men's race at 11:00am and deteriorated even more for the women's race (12:15 pm) but at least the women had more time to prepare for the adverse conditions. The weather shifted so close to the start of the men's race that it was harder for the guys to know what to do.
Sandoval and Tobias have no experience racing in such conditions but it didn't deter them from giving a great effort. After all, all cross country runners know it's the tough courses and harsh conditions that make cross country racing the sport it is. Neither Sandoval or Tobias were able to achieve an elusive All-American recognition (top 40 finishers of the 280 finalists at the NCAA Championships) but they went after it by executing race tactics best positioning themselves for the possibility. Both decided to leave nothing on the course… a more conservative race plan would likely ensure decent place-finishes but not All-American honors. Both decided to be assertive from the gun. It was an uphill start which is tactically dangerous in cross country racing and something not often experienced. Both Tobias and Sandoval got out well, but not dangerously fast, and were identically placed 69th at their first mile marker. They also did well to stay upright throughout the entire race. "We made the right choice of spike length and racing shoes which prevented falling on the sharp downhill turns where other runners were going down"; reported Phillips. "Julian had a problem with his insoles getting wet and slipping on the downhills but it didn't result in blistering"; indicated Phillips.
Sandoval raced an aggressive 2nd and 3rd mile positioning himself in 42nd place at 5000m of the 8000m men's race. The goal was to maintain that position prior to a big finishing kick but it wasn't to be as his legs seized up at about 6000m. "I appreciate Julian's all-or-nothing approach to becoming an All-American"; commented Phillips. Last year a more conservative approach led to a higher place-finish for Julian and the good of our team's score but it's different when you race as an individual… there's not a lot to go for except top-40 and All-American recognition. If the legs go in an attempt at top-40 a lot of the team qualifiers can pass you by in a hurry. It's similar to a break-away attempt in team cycling.
Tobias executed a similar race plan moving up to 55th place at the 2-mile and 45th at the 3-mile. Julissa was as high as 43rd at 5000m but she was also surrounded by long and short kickers alike. "She really battled that final 1000m passing some runners but getting passed by others"; said Phillips. In Julissa's first two attempts at Nationals she placed 78th by going out a little too conservative and 81st by going out a little too fast. Her concluding senior race was perfect resulting in the second highest finish ever by a Poet Cross Country runner, male or female, at the NCAA Championships. Forty-seventh at Nationals means you finished in the top .8 percent of all NCAA DIII cross country runners. That's an 'A+' for any professor…