By Rebecca Dzombak, For the Daily
Published September 23, 2013
When she was in high school, Erin Finn looked up to current Michigan cross country runners Brook Handler and Shannon Osika. Now, after setting a national indoor 5,000-meter record in 2012 and almost repeating the feat in 2013, she is their teammate – and she’s off to a blazing start as a Wolverine.
Finn, who placed fourth in her collegiate debut at the Purdue Invitational on Sept. 13, arrived at Michigan with a phenomenal cross country background. As a junior at West Bloomfield (Mich.) High School, she took the 2012 national indoor 5,000-meter title with a time of 16:19.69 after having kicked the race off with a blistering 5:07 first mile that was described as “reckless” by the runner-up.
Then, in her senior year, she crossed the same finish line in 16:18.02 in a head-to-head finish and was announced the winner with a new national record. But a few minutes later, a voice boomed over the public-address system to say that the runner-up had in fact won by .01 seconds.
“That was very tough to take,” Finn said. “But it just motivated me to keep working, and it’s still motivating me now.”
That motivation has proved useful. Before the Wolverines’ preseason camp at the end of August, Finn developed plantar fasciitis in one of her heels. She arrived at camp disappointed and upset but said that because of the immense support and camaraderie of her new teammates, camp was one of the greatest experiences of her life.
During high school, she’d simply been too fast for the other women on her team, so she ran with the girls instead. Michigan’s camp was the first time she had the opportunity to run with women at her pace.
“Shannon Osika was one of the only girls I was ever able to run with,” Finn said. “She lived pretty close to me in high school, so we’d do off-season training together. Brook (Handler), too. I always looked up to them, and now I’m on the same team as them. It’s definitely an honor. ... I’ve always been a Wolverine at heart. It’s always been ‘Go Blue.’ ”
Camp provided her with the support she needed to get through her injury and recover enough to race well at Purdue. With her recent bout of plantar fasciitis, was she nervous?
“Oh, definitely,” she said. “With my foot, I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to run, or to run fast enough to be in the top seven.”
But as her experience at camp had shown her, working with such a strong, cohesive team had its benefits. Finn stuck right with Pogue, Handler and Weschler for the duration of the race to form the front pack.
“Finishing in the pack gave me so much confidence,” Finn said. “I know I have a lot of work to put in, but I know I have a really decent starting point and that I’ll just keep forging ahead.”
Finn’s usual racing strategy is to start off strong and fast to set a demanding pace, but she recognizes that making the transition from 5,000 meters to 6,000 meters will require some adjustments. When she hit the 5,000-meter mark at Purdue – her first 6,000-meter race ever – her body “froze,” she said, unused to having to run an additional 1,000 meters.
She acknowledged that her fast first-mile strategy is a strength only as long as she’s smart and tactical about using it, especially while she’s making the distance switch.
“I know I’ll learn a lot about running tactically from coach Mike (McGuire), and I think that as a distance runner, I’ll adjust to the (6,000-meter) distance and like it more.”
If her past performance is any indication of how she’ll perform this season, it seems clear that after years of running to get here, Finn will have an outstanding career as a Wolverine.