Trapped. Three miles in, with another two to go, but still trapped.
Shoulder-to-shoulder racing today at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational means the sweat on the Gators’ bodies might belong to the runner next to them. The back of the bobbing heads ahead of them will become a monotonous metronome, lulling its victims into a daze for the remainder of the meet.
From start to finish, runners are boxed in the entire way.
The 39 teams for the men and 42 for the women equates to more runners clumped together throughout the race. Unlike smaller meets where competitors can eventually break apart from others, they will be forced to run through UW's Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course virtually hand-in-hand with those next to them.
Florida cross country coach Todd Morgan, is taking the responsibility of helping his runners break through this potential pitfall. With three weeks of training after the Gators' last meet, Morgan focused his runners on the struggles usually accompanied with a larger race.
“If you are two, three or four miles into a race, it’s difficult to keep pressing and you might still see 50 or 60 bodies in front of you,” Morgan said regarding the jam-packed atmosphere of an NCAA Championship-caliber meet.
To avoid becoming discouraged, Morgan emphasized the importance of staying positive and not getting rattled by the intense competition.
But Morgan won’t be with the Gators three miles into the race when the physicality of a crowded field pays a toll on the runners. Still, the Gators are able to use these harsh conditions to inspire themselves to separate from the pack.
“We would definitely use that to motivate us to run a little faster and get ahead,” sophomore Cory McGee said. “You expect to get some elbows, with so many people out there. Everyone’s trying to get into a certain spot to put yourself in position to make a move.”
To senior Genevieve LaCaze, the strategy is simple.
“The best way to deal with a situation like that is beat them,” she said. “If someone’s going to push you, beat them.”
There is no getting around it, Florida will be bullied into running with a flock of other runners during the race. However, Morgan hopes his Gators break the trap when it truly matters – at the finish line.