On a freezing Saturday in Winneconne, Wisc., underdressed men with painted chests cheer while drummers add to the audio provided by the hordes of fans. This, ladies and gentlemen, is women’s cross-country.
More specifically, it is the 2015 NCAA Division III Women’s Cross Country Championship 6k, which took place on Nov. 21, while most Colorado College students were traveling home for the holidays.
This year, three Tigers represented CC at the championships: Leah Wessler, Katie Sandfort, and Allysa Warling. All three had never before competed at Nationals, and all admitted being a bit overwhelmed by the 280-women race. “I had run a couple that big but never that competitive,” said Warling. “That was definitely the largest, most competitive race I’ve been a part of.” Warling was the first CC freshman to compete at a national women’s meet.
Wessler, for her part, was more intimidated, particularly by her competitor’s apparel.
“Well, over half of the girls there were wearing Runderwear, so I was like, ‘Wow! These are real athletes!’” said Wessler. For the ignorant, Runderwear is underwear that one runs in and is a ubiquitous sign that one is very fast—or at least according to Wessler.
Once the gun shot fired, the anticipatory scene quickly turned frenzied. In fact, Wesslers’ description of the first 400 meters sounds more like a scene from a zombie film. “A couple of girls fell and it was almost a pile up,” she said. “This girl next to me fell, and I had to jump away because people were like running into her.”
Sandfort explains the scene similarly, but used the terrifying prospect of being trampled by hordes of female athletes to her advantage. “It gives me a little bit of an adrenaline rush,” said Sandfort.
Sandfort and Wessler soon found themselves in the back of the pack. Upon realizing their lackluster placing, the two swiftly picked up their pace. They had to navigate past an estimated 100 women. A lot of zig-zagging was required to weave past the bottleneck of runners.
By mile two, the two made their way past the bottleneck and caught up to Warling. In fact, for a portion of the race, the three ran shoulder-to-shoulder. However, a tunnel-visioned Warling was oblivious of her company.
During this time, the elements of the 20-degree day also began to factor in. “At that point my feet were numb,” said Warling. “I couldn’t feel them touching the ground, but I knew they were. It was freezing.”
Despite this, the three kept chugging along, keeping a good pace and consistently picking off their competitors.
At one point, during the second mile, Sandfort and Wessler began to “surge.” Warling likely would have followed and kept up pace if she was at all aware of her teammates’ proximity.
By the time the third mile began, the speed at which the race passed surprised all three runners.
Sandfort and Warling had settled into a pace, but Wessler was just getting started, “I kept speeding up in the third mile and I was thinking ‘Ok, this is Nationals, this is my last meet of the season, this is my last race for a while.’ So that kind of helped me keep picking up the pace”
Wessler ended up in a better-than-expected 78th place with a time of 22:12.5, a personal best. Sandfort, who finished less than eight seconds behind Wessler, ended up in 97th. Warling completed the race in 22:34. All three Tigers are very optimistic about the 2016 cross-country season. “Next year we have a really good chance (of making nationals as a team) because our team is so young,” said Wessler. If the team qualifies for Nationals in 2016, seven, instead of just three runners, would represent CC.
For now, the cross-country team will take full advantage of their brief vacation, which ends this week with the advent of the Track season.
Race report: CC’s fastest women break down the DIII Championship
Leah Wessler: “The first mile was pretty brutal, in that both Katie and I were in the back and we had to pass over 100 people just in the first mile to try and get to the right spot. So we kind’ve had to weave back and forth in the race.”
Katie Sandfort: “It was a bad first 100 meters, but I recovered that pretty quickly. It was, like, panicky. My whole thought process was panic. I never really hit the groove, and there was just a fuckload of people and I felt like that the whole race.”
LW: “At that point my feet were numb. I couldn’t feel them touching the ground, but I knew they were. It was freezing. “
KS: “A cool thing that was happening was that, in this 280-girl race, I found Leah Wessler. I was like, ‘Ah, that’s my teammate, cool’.”
Alyssa Warling: “The first mile was a little slow. So, I picked it up a little. The second mile was my best mile, I think.”
LW: “I think the whole race was pretty frantic and discombobulating because there were so many people there, I think that’s why the race felt like it went so fast.”
KS: “My coach saw me and told me I was doing well. He was like ‘You’re doing awesome!’, sounding a bit shocked. I was like ‘OK, cool’ and ran a little faster and finished the race.”
AW: “I started to get really cold by mile three. I was just trying to hold my position at that point.”
Leah Wessler: 78th
Katie Sandfort: 97th
Alyssa Warling: 134th