At 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, 11 girls from the St. Olaf womens cross country team met at Skoglund Athletic Center to spend the night on the newly sanitized matted floor of the wrestling room. The athletes each carried a weekend bag and pillow and were joined by coach Chris Daymont, who provided sleeping bags for all.
Thursday morning travel
The next morning, at 3 a.m., we received a much anticipated, albeit harsh, wake-up call . Half an hour later, we piled into a 15-passenger van and headed to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. Our team was traveling to Hanover, Ind. to race in the Division III pre-national meet on Friday afternoon. Originally, Chris had planned to drive the top 11 runners the 12 hours to Southern Indiana, which would have been very exhausting considering she is the only one licensed to drive St. Olaf vehicles.
However, an anonymous donation of 12 plane tickets allowed our entire pre-national team to make the trip comfortably in less than five hours. We checked our bags at the Twin Cities Airport at 4 a.m., boarded our plane at 5:30, and after a brief layover at Chicagos OHare Airport, arrived in the Lexington/Blue Grass terminal in Kentucky at 10:30 a.m. EST.
At the airport, we were met by Kentucky resident Brenda Franey, mother of Brigid Franey 01. Brenda led us through the beautiful Kentucky back roads to Kenneland Racetrack, part of the set for the movie Sea Biscuit. At the track, our team received royal treatment as we explored the paddocks and a security guard turned his head while we pet the racehorses whose anxiety we well understood. Although NCAA rules prohibit all athletes from gambling, we made friendly wagers amongst ourselves and experienced "the other side of racing" as Erin Bengsten 06 rooted for the winning horse, Atababe, and Erin Weir 07 espoused the last place finisher, Princess.
Following Brendas recommendation, Stephanie Block 07 further enriched her "Kentucky experience" by sampling Burgoo, a favorite racetrack concession. This native stew is traditionally made with squirrel, opossum, veal, mutton, and vegetables. After our tired eyes and bodies had taken in as much Kentucky as we could handle for one day, we parted ways with Brenda and began the two-hour drive to our own racecourse in Hanover, Ind.
Scouting the course
At 3 p.m., we arrived at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Scottsburg, Ind. to check into our rooms. An hour later, we were unpacked, changed, and back in the van for the 20minute drive to the racecourse at Hanover College, where we would do our pre-meet warm-up. The course consisted of a complicated tangle of loops that scribbled through the colleges athletic grounds. The route angled around athletic fields, swept through "woods" and darted up and down hills. Even with a map in front of us, it was hard to determine the correct path of the course. Our pre-meet work-out consisted of a warm-up on the course, sprint drills and stride-outs at the starting area and a brisk cool-down.
At 6:30 p.m. we left the racecourse but maintained our pre-race mode since we were running late for our dinner reservations at Jeeves & Company with former Ole thrower Emily Uzzell 03. Because we would not be racing until 4 p.m. the following afternoon, we were able to fully enjoy the restaurants "innovative American cuisine" without worrying too much about pre-race digestion. The food offered a gourmet contrast to the Subway we had eaten for lunch.
The team took advantage of the races relatively late start by sleeping in on Friday morning; however, everyone was sure to wake-up in time to take advantage of the hotels continental breakfast. At noon, the team made its way over to Arbys. At 2 p.m., we left for the course. Although we all needed to expel some energy and quiet our nerves at one point or another before the race, we all kept "our heads on and our wits in," as the expression goes.
At 2:30 p.m., we arrived at the course, where nearly the entire team joined the ranks in line for the porta-potties. After tending to our bowels, bladders and belongings, our team regrouped to warm-up on the course. The 20-minute warm-up was interrupted by a stretching break and followed by another bathroom break before the team moved into sprint-drills. Although it is undeniable, and perfectly normal, that nerves edge their way into the picture before any race, the familiarity of the pre-race routine helped everyone focus on preparation, rather than panic. A pep-talk from the coach completed preparations, enticing us all into "racing mode." After checking-in with the race official and breezing through our stride-outs, it was all we could do to come together, clap our hands, and call out our catchphrase, "We love it, we love it, we love it, we love it, we love it, we love it, we love it, we love it! Oles!"
Soon, we were on the line waiting for the gun in what proved to be the most anticipated moment of the entire trip. In a single heartbeat, we were off. As captain Marit Grorud 04 had anticipated, the field started out fast. Grorud held her ground in the front pack, with the other 10 Oles close behind her. Ole harriers have always been known for their "pack running" during races, working together in "packs," pushing and pulling themselves and their teammates to accomplish more than they could on their own. Fittingly so, the Oles were never too far apart on the course; as soon as one woman started to slow her stride, another would step up, maintaining strong motivation and speed.
Consistent with her competitive start, Grorud finished ninth overall. Behind her, Stephanie Block 07 finished 13th, just ahead of Bengsten, who placed 20th. Meredith Fahrner 06, Brenna Bray 06, and Sarah Estill 06 also finished in the top 25, placing 21st, 24th, and 25th respectively. Lindsay Boetcher 06 rounded out the scoring, picking up a 27th place finish. Larisa Nordstrom 06 just missed being the seventh and final Ole to score points, finishing in 28th.
The collective effort of the team was good enough to earn a third place finish behind runner-up Emory and pre-national meet champion Ithaca.
After the race, we cooled down as a team, discussed the logistics of our races and complimented each other on strong finishes. After stretching and tending to our many wounds via the ice bags, we took pictures, claimed recognition at the awards ceremony, quickly showered in the locker room at the Hanover Athletic Complex and warily piled into the van at 7 p.m. as the day was hastily darkening. Our destination: Lexington, Ky. where the Franeys had hospitably welcomed us to spend the night in their newly renovated town home.
On the two-hour drive that took us back over the border, we indulged in a homemade chocolate cake that Estill had managed to save and some goodies from a complimentary gift basket from the hotel. At 10 p.m. EST we arrived at the Franeys home where Mr. Franey treated us to a late dinner at Max & Ermas, an American grille with a family atmosphere, before we finally retired to the make-shift cots and beds that Brenda had kindly prepared for each team member.
Back to Olaf
Saturday was another long day of traveling which began with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up. By the time we arrived back on the Hill at noon, we had once again graced the presence of the Kentucky, Chicago, and Minneapolis/St. Paul airports. Although the main excitement of the trip was behind us at this point, our spirits were held high by our gratitude for all of the generosity that we had received. Our hearts were warmed by Mr. And Mrs. Franeys kindness and hospitality; our smiles were brightened by Emily Uzzells affection and our spirits were thoroughly lifted by the unbelievable generosity of our anonymous donor. In this regard, perhaps the most fulfilling part of our trip away from St. Olaf was the gratitude and excitement with which we anxiously returned.