‘Body’s Failure’ Stops Runner in Final RaceBy Yuval Mazor
The Men’s Cross Country team ended the season this Saturday with a bittersweet trip to the National Championships, at Minnesota’s to St. Olaf College.
MIT’s representatives, Sean P. R. Nolan ’03 and Benjamin A. Schmeckpeper ’05, had both finished in the top 10 at the New England regional meet and were hoping to finish the season with All-American performances at Nationals.
But it was not to be, as Nolan collapsed late in the race, falling from 25th to 69th in the final quarter mile.
Schmeckpeper did not have his best race, either, but did run strong enough to finish in 32nd and claim his first All-American award.
Ryan Bak of Trinity College was the overall champion in 25:01, beating out Wisconsin Platteville’s Ryan Kleimenhagen and Bates College’s Justin Easter. The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh won the overall team title with 66 points, besting Calvin College (122) and North Central (146).
Coming into the meet, Coach Halston Taylor was excited about the duo’s chances at Nationals. Nolan and Schmeckpeper averaged close to 90 miles per week all season long and had established themselves as two of the best runners in a very talented New England region. Saturday’s 35-degree temperature and strong winds seemed to inspire them, as both runners had struggled at last year’s National meet when the temperatures soared into the 80s.
Both Schmeckpeper and Nolan got off the line strong and settled in behind the leaders, in 5th and 15th places, respectively. It seemed that no one was willing to make a move, as a large lead pack came through the first mile in a relaxed 4:45.
The second and third miles saw the race string out, as the leaders began to separate from the chasers. Nolan and Schmeckpeper had let the first pack go, but remained in strong position, as Nolan came through the three mile in 20th place at 15:13, with Schmeckpeper right behind in 15:17.
The pair maintained their top-25 positions climbing the long hill at the end of the fourth mile, but as they crested the hill, Nolan began to feel tremendous pain. Unwilling to back off with only a mile to go, Nolan regrouped on the downhill, hoping he could hold on enough for the finish.
With a little over half a mile to go, Nolan began to struggle with his balance, nearly falling as he rounded the last turn towards the finish. With only a quarter of a mile up a steep incline before the finish line, Nolan started to lose all motor control.
Nolan nearly crawled up to the final plateau, 15 meters from the finish line, before falling to the ground. Reaching deep within himself, Nolan picked himself up, and fought off the pain long enough to stagger over the finish line in 26:05.
Schmeckpeper, who had fallen off Nolan at the start of the last mile, was still in the top-35 with a quarter mile to go, when he began his push for the finish. Climbing the hill before the finish, Schmeckpeper saw his teammate struggling and eventually fall to the ground at the top of the hill. Momentarily distracted, Schmeckpeper had to muster all his strength to hold off a challenge from Widener University’s Paul Little, finishing in 25:47 and claiming his first All-American award.
Although the runners were disappointed not to have met all their goals, there was a sense of accomplishment nonetheless.
“I am very proud of both Ben and Sean,” Taylor said. “I have never had two runners at nationals who could both say they had nothing left to give until now. They put it on the line and except for Sean’s body’s failure to respond in the last 200 meters, it went as well as could be expected.”
Nolan was reflective after the last Cross Country race of his career, despite his individual trials.
“Ben earned his first All-American, and I think he will be a contender for the individual champion in the coming years,” Nolan said. “I’m confident that the underclassmen will improve a lot in the next year, so the 2003 team should do very well. These are really good people that I run with, and I’m just glad to have been a part of the team.”