Thursday night marked the culmination of collegiate distance running as well as the final 10,000 meters of sixth-year senior Erin Finn’s illustrious career as a Wolverine.
Twenty-four of the nation’s best assembled at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas to represent their schools in the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
The women’s 10,000-meter final began with a congested cluster of runners stretching four lanes wide. Finn quickly earned an inside position within the top five and held a steady pace for the first 10-15 laps.
An injury-riddled season afforded Finn less than two months and just three events of competitive running to prepare, forcing her to adopt a new, unfamiliar approach.
“The start was great,” Finn said. “My plan was to not do any of the work (of leading). Ideally, I like to control the race, but my body was not strong enough, not fit enough at this point.”
During the first half of the race, Finn’s strategy was predicated on staying within striking distance of Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer, who jumped out to an early lead. After falling out of the top five, Finn pushed her way back with 8 laps remaining.
But the heat, humidity, and exhaustion began to take its toll on the runners with just four laps to go, providing the ultimate separation that would define the race.
“My body really started to struggle,” Finn said. “I got passed and I got gapped.”
With runners falling in and out of contention, the only competitor seemingly unaffected was New Mexico’s Weini Kelati, who used the last mile to build a nearly insurmountable lead.
However, the final lap catalyzed an inspiring comeback from Carmela Cardama Baez of Oregon. Trailing by nearly five seconds, Cardama Baez climbed all the way back, approaching within a meter of Kelati. Alerted by the roar of the crowd, Kelati propelled one final push, giving her all the separation she needed. With only 50 meters to go following an exhaustive effort, Cardama Baez had neither the time nor the energy to complete the comeback.
Kelati finished with a time of 33:10.84, a record at Mike A. Myers Stadium.
Finn delivered a similarly admirable finale. As a sixth-year senior clawing her way back from hip surgery, she was nearly 20 seconds ahead of the next finisher.
She ended up in 12th place with a time of 33:40.88, capturing a second-team All-America honor.
“It’s definitely not the way I dreamed of going out, especially after some of my earlier successes,” the ten-time USTFCCCA All-American said. “But given this journey I’ve had the last year and a half, a couple weeks before Big Ten’s I didn’t know if I’d be running at all this season. I was really thankful that I could have one last go around.”
The finish line represented the conclusion of this year’s track and field season as well as the career of one of the most decorated athletes in school history.
“I had that flashback,” Finn said. “It wasn’t of anything I had done. Just thinking about my teammates, my coach, my assistant coaches, my athletic trainer, just all the people who have touched my life, recognizing these people will forever be in my life. Although my days as an athlete are over, my days as a Wolverine are not.”