EAST LANSING – “Ladies, on your marks!”

BANG! Cue “Eye of the Tiger.” The booming bass beats bounced over Forest Akers East Golf Course last Friday at the Spartan Invitational in East Lansing, where the Michigan women’s cross country team was competing. Despite the tiny raindrops, the energetic vibe was palpable as both runners and spectators alike took off to run the course and watch some extremely competitive running against a backdrop of loud pump-up tunes.

The energy level was still high at the finish line as Maize-and-Blue-clad runners sprinted into the shoot to claim the top five places. Twenty-five seconds later, another wave of Michigan runners dashed across the line, giving the Wolverines nine of the top 15 finishing times.

Leading the pack and winning the race in 20:52 was Michigan’s Alyson Kohlmeier. Nicole Edwards came in second with a time of 21:04. Over the next 11 seconds, Ana Gjesdal, Arianne Field and Erin Webster placed third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

Because the Spartan Invitational was an unscored event, Michigan had the chance to allow more athletes to compete and, in turn, to demonstrate the depth of its team. Unlike other schools, Michigan does not have just one star runner. Rather, it has an intimidating pack of lead racers who work together to stay ahead.

This natural front-pack running is not so much strategy as a habit formed from training together and knowing one another’s paces and abilities.

“It’s like practice almost,” Kohlmeier said. “We’re so tightly packed together. It relaxes you, but it also encourages you.”

The strength of the Wolverines comes from the fact that they are able to motivate and support each other not only at practices and before races, but also during competitions. In a sport as mentally grueling as running, motivation and support can make all the difference.

“When you’re surrounded by four or two or three of your teammates, it’s just that one person who touches you on the elbow and is like, ‘Nope, you’re not slowing down,’ ” said Katie Erdman, one of the team’s captains.

It was apparent to the crowd around the scoreboard that Michigan did not slow down. Reading the top names, they noted, “It’s all Michigan.”

Knowing that they wanted to position themselves among the leaders early in the race, the Wolverines got off to a quick start. The six-kilometer race consisted of two different loops around the course. For most of the first loop, the lead pack of Wolverines battled four Michigan State runners. Michigan was able to increase the pace and pull ahead. During the second loop and coming into the finish, the Michigan runners maintained their pace and kept a nice distance ahead of runners to sweep the top five.

Erdman explained the Wolverines’ domination in simple terms.

“We really just wanted to run today as a team,” she said.

That was all it took.

The team will train for two weeks before traveling to the Notre Dame Invitational in South Bend on Sept. 30. The race will begin at 4:15 p.m.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.