TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Every summer, thousands of runners hit the roads, trails, and grass training hundreds, some even thousands of miles, all in hopes that they can obtain the ultimate goal:
A National Championship.
In order to reach the pinnacle of distance running, these thousands of runners will travel to Terre Haute, Indiana.
The NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships have been hosted by Indiana State University and the city of Terre Haute in 10 of the last 12 years. The hosts have seen numerous Olympians and some of the best runners in the world, and those runners all competed in Cross Country Town, USA.
In order to qualify for the NCAA Championships and have a chance at that National title, teams must gain the necessary points to get into the meet late into the Fall. During the season, several large, competitive meets fill each teams schedule, but none larger than the meet that takes place in the same city as the National Championships.
That is the Pre-Nationals.
The 2013 edition of the Pre-Nationals consists of nearly 180 Men’s and Women’s teams, that span from California to New Jersey. These runners will all meet at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course for one of the biggest collegiate athletic events in America.
It’s one of the most competitive meets cross country fans will see until the runners line up in Terre Haute, November 23.
The Pre-Nationals begin at 11 a.m. and last roughly three and a half hours, providing fans with quality race after quality race. The main event, however takes place to start the meet, as the Men’s and Women’s Blue races will start off the Pre-National festivities.
The Men’s Blue race will have a ‘Clash of the Titans’ feel to it as long-time cross country powers #4 Oregon and #2 Colorado will square off against the defending National Champion #1 Oklahoma State. These three teams have all won two national championships in Terre Haute and have won a combined 12 National Championships.
“The practical aspect of the Pre-Nationals is that we get to learn about the course,” said legendary Colorado Head Coach Mark Wetmore. “Almost every team has new varsity members and they need to get a lay of the land, so to speak. Also, it is the biggest meet of the year, bigger than the NCAA’s. It is an opportunity to experience that, which can be disconcerting for the new people.”
The Men’s Race will consist of 12 teams ranked among the Nation’s top 30. The average fan would be hard pressed to find that anywhere else in the nation.
The Women’s Blue Race is headlined by #2 Florida State University, as they attempt to keep pace ahead of #5 Oregon, #6 Georgetown, and #8 Stanford.
Oregon returns as the defending National Champions, their third all time, while Georgetown won the National Championship the last time the meet was held in Terre Haute. Seven of the nine National Championships won in Terre Haute, are represented at the Pre-Nationals (Oregon, Georgetown, #12 Villanova (twice), Stanford (three-times), and #14 Colorado). The Seminoles will care little about the past however, as they look to make their own history and win their first National Championship in 2013.
What makes cross country so great is that it consists of a race within a race, and as the teams battle within the pack, individuals will lead the way as they chase National Championship thoughts of their own.
Winning the Pre-Nationals doesn’t necessarily guarantee a national title, but it certainly gets the hype going for the runner that breaks the tape at the finish.
The men’s individual battle will match-up returning NCAA Champion Kennedy Kithuka, putting on a show as he battles defending Pre-Nationals Champion Anthony Rotich of UTEP. Rotich has an undefeated season going, including an impressive win at the Notre Dame Invitational. Kithuka also has an undefeated record after winning the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville. These two could be pushing for the course record of 22:51 for 8,000 meters held by Liberty’s Sam Chelanga from 2008. Also, joining in the assault of the record could be Oklahoma State’s Tom Farrell and UNC – Greensboro’s Paul Chelimo.
The women’s individual battle will be wide open, as several women will look to kick-start their way into the national champion talks. Among those individuals will be Cal Poly’s Laura Hollander and Sarah Collins of Providence, who both return from top ten finishes at last year’s NCAA Championships. Florida State’s Colleen Quigley is the top returner from last year’s Pre-National’s meet when she took 6th overall.
The runner’s will prepare for the race, while Terre Haute and Indiana State prepare for them.
“Terre Haute seems to want this meet,” said Wetmore. “Not many towns do these days. It’s a ton of work, and probably costs more than the NCAA gives the L.O.C. to get it done, Also, Terre Haute and the people at Indiana State have worked hard to make a fair championship course…one that can handle 300 racers. And they make it better every year. There are very few “purpose built” Cross Country courses in the country.”
As October 19 quickly approaches and runners all over America continue to eat, sleep, and breathe cross country, they will surely have the course built specifically for cross country in mind. They will see over 300 hundred runners at their side battling for the same thing that they will be, victory. On October 19, they begin to make that dream come true and on November 23 in the small town of Terre Haute, they will put years of hard work and months of dreaming into one action packed afternoon for an NCAA Championship, but it starts next Saturday.