Gearing up for the NCAA Men’s Cross Country Championship Monday, Michigan redshirt senior Devin Meyrer had things to prove. For his team, for his coach and especially for himself, the race meant something more.
When 31 teams were chosen to run in the meet, Michigan was left behind. For the first time since 2010, the Wolverines found themselves out of the season’s highest honor.
“I think the national (and) team consensus was that we got kind of screwed,” Meyrer said. “ … It’s done now, so there’s no point in really griping about it anymore.”
Meyrer, the only Michigan runner to qualify as an individual competitor, traveled to Oklahoma State’s course to represent his team and his 24th-place, 30:27.9 finish earned him All-American honors for the second year in a row.
Proving the selection committee wrong about skipping over Michigan seemed to motivate Meyrer. More importantly, though, he wanted to prove something to himself. His performance came after finishing 16th in last year’s championship, something he wanted to show wasn’t a “flash in the pan.”
Finishing well this year was far from an expectation. His race came after breaking a Michigan record for the 5,000-meter run at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship on Friday clocking in at 13:40.66. The exertion of that race made a top time seem like a long shot.
In a sport where mental toughness makes an enormous difference, Meyrer had to convince himself that he could do both. Running on the same tired legs that carried him to success a few days earlier, he came into Monday prepared for whatever he would find.
Starting out at 30th in the field over the first 1,000 meters, Meyrer jumped five spots by the fourth kilometer. He surged to 18th before the final stretch, making a move to lead his group of runners.
That’s when he faced down a strong headwind, which sapped his energy and put his race in jeopardy. While he had wanted to break ahead of the pack to finish strong, crossing the finish line at all became the goal.
“My only thought going downhill was ‘Don’t fall,’ because I could feel my toes dragging because I couldn’t drive my knees anymore,” Meyrer said. “So I was like ‘Dude, you did not just run 9.9K just to fall on your face and give up spots.’ ”
Six runners passed him as he navigated the hill, but all Meyrer focused on was finishing. By the time he did, he felt relieved that the struggles of the race were over. Fighting to catch his breath, he was guided off the course as exhaustion blacked out his thoughts.
When Meyrer saw Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan after the race, two things were on the runner’s mind: 1) He was exhausted, and 2) he wanted to know if his coach liked his performance.
“I didn’t feel like I really needed to reaffirm how great a performance it was,” Sullivan said. “That was as much or more than I could ask for on the day, especially given we’d only raced two days prior to that as well.”
Meyrer, as his career enters its twilight, wanted to know that all the long hours and hard practices were worth it on Sullivan’s end. When he ran one of his worst career meets at the 2019 NCAA outdoor track preliminary, Sullivan walked in on the then-redshirt junior working on a spin bike.
Sullivan told him the effort was what stood out, not the time. It mattered more that Meyrer, beleaguered and demoralized, still finished the race. Meyrer said that flipped a switch.
That change built up over the past two years, and Monday’s efforts were far from that bad meet. The motivation Meyrer gained from Sullivan’s backing brought him across that finish line.
The race meant more, for Michigan and for Meyrer, and the grit to finish the race proved it.
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