The Run: Rust-Buster

Varsity distance runner and former sports editor Jason Norris ’24 writes about his races at the track team’s competition at the Suffolk Icebreaker Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 14.

by Jason Norris | 1/20/23 1:05am

alex-craig-track
Source: Alex Craig '25

On Saturday morning, my alarm sounded at 5:30 a.m. to signal the beginning of a long day of competition. I hopped in the shower quickly, popped some bread in the toaster, grabbed my bags and headed out. Stepping over the forgotten Domino's pizza that my housemate had presumably ordered late the night before — a common occurrence after a Friday night out at Dartmouth — I walked through the light snow to the bus. My team was set to travel down to the new track at New Balance in Boston to compete in the Suffolk Icebreaker Invitational. This was the first race of the season for many of us, so the main purpose was to reintroduce ourselves to competition and eliminate any rustiness we had accumulated during the off-season —  something we call a “rust-buster.”

I never really know how these rust-busters are going to go. And not only was this a season-opening rust-buster — it was also all of our first races under our new coach, Sean McNulty. Donning the green and black checkered Dartmouth uniform, my teammates and I lined up to race the one-mile run against an array of athletes from other schools. One of the many quirks of collegiate track and field is that we race against a variety of competitors — it’s quite rare outside of the Ivy League Championships that we race in a scored meet against other schools. This race was filled with athletes from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Suffolk University and a recent college graduate who still likes to race from time to time. 

Having not raced a mile in nearly a year, my expected outcome was truly a mystery to me. When the official spoke the familiar, “runners to your mark,” muscle memory took over; when the gun shot off, I flew to the front. One of the few advantages I have as a 6’4” distance runner is that the elbows thrown by both competitors beside me casually bounced off my hips, and a foot clipping the back of my heel did not interrupt my stride as I took the lead. Our race plan was simple — take control and hit the splits. 

For the first three laps — each being 200 meters on an indoor track — we split 32, 32 and 31 seconds, respectively. Halfway through the fourth lap, Seth Weprin ’23 came up on my side and took the lead. I focused my eyes on the white lone pine stitched to the back of his singlet and stuck with him, continuing to stay on the splits with a 31 and 32. So far, so good. However, this point in a mile is historically my Achilles heel, and I was about to find out about how rusty I was.

In a race, there are a few key occurrences that indicate a loss of momentum. The first is simple: You feel like shit. Your legs fill with lactic acid and each step becomes more difficult. The second is that cheers for other people erupt as your competitors catch up to you. And the third is the sound of footsteps behind you growing louder and louder until they surpass you. At this weak point in my race, I felt awful as the UMass Lowell section began to roar. The footsteps came upon me, and then I was chewed up and spat out by a string of five UMass Lowell athletes. I lost more momentum each time one of them passed me until I was running at a ridiculously slow pace — from 1000-1200 meters, I ran a 36.8 and was unable to speed up. I had been so focused on hitting splits that when it came time to seriously compete, I was not prepared. For the remaining two laps, I split a 36.3 and 37.2, respectively, essentially jogging it in and running a 4:30 mile — 18 seconds off my personal best.

My coach and I agreed to call it what it was: a rust-buster that was never going to happen again. I had the opportunity to redeem myself in the distance medley relay later in the day, in which I was running the 800m leg. Ironically, my legs felt better after the mile race than they had before— maybe I just needed to warm up. I had three hours until my next race, and during that time I was able to enjoy the meet and watch my teammates compete.

Following the mile was the 800 meters, which was dominated by my teammate DJ Matusz ’25. An 800 meter specialist, DJ was looking to start the season with a statement. He opened up his race with a speedy, 25-second 200 meters, cruising his way to the win in 1:51 — three seconds ahead of second place. Keeping the momentum going, the trio of Eric Gibson ’23, Mac Hadden ’25, and Albert Velikonja ’25 controlled the 1000 meter dash, taking three of the top four placements with Gibson winning the race in 2:25. In the 200 meters, Jada Jones ’26 dominated as the only competitor to run under 25 seconds and Jamal Cooney ’23 — who joined the team this season after playing on the football team for the past four years — placed ninth overall. The highlight of the day was our men’s 4x400 meter relay team. The team called their shot going into the race — they wanted to break the school record of 3:16. As Mason Childers ’25 received the baton on the anchor leg with a time of 2:25 on the clock, our entire team was on its feet, cheering on the squad. Mason flew down the home stretch and crossed the line with a time of 3:13.70, throwing his hands in the air victoriously.

Now it was time for the DMRs. These were going to be fun — we split into three teams that our coach named after Dartmouth history. There was the Dr. Seuss team, the “COLLEGE” team (not sure why he wrote it in all caps) and mine, the “1769” team. At this point, we had woken up at 5:30 a.m., already raced and our stomachs were filled with pickles we had picked up from Panera — in other words, perfect running conditions. 

While it was just our three Dartmouth teams competing against each other, we made it competitive. Mac and I — who are pretty close friends and train together a lot — agreed to be enemies during the two minutes of our 800 meter leg. Mac received the baton roughly 4 seconds ahead of me, and I began the futile process of reeling him in. As I fought through those first three laps and closed the gap to be just under a second, I got close enough to see how relaxed the muscles in his shoulders were. Being pretty familiar with his form, I realized, “shit, he’s been jogging this whole time.” As we sped into the final lap, his muscles sprang to life and he took off, reinstating the gap between us. A nearly-fumbled handoff between myself and the next leg of our DMR sealed the deal. Team Dr. Seuss cruised to the win, followed by us and then team COLLEGE. When the lone freshman distance runner Richie Moreno ’26 came into the final lap of the anchor leg for team COLLEGE, those who had already ran their legs shouted “RICHIE” in unison, and a smile spread across his face as he quickened his pace and kicked it in. 

These DMR’s were the final step of clearing the rust out of our systems and the competitive energy we brought allowed us to do just that. At the end of the day, we all gathered around the throw pit to cheer on those who made the finals in the shot put, then packed up the bus and headed back home to Hanover. We arrived a little after 8:00 p.m., and the long day of travel and competition ended with a few of us grabbing a much needed bite at Molly’s. Then the recovery began, and we set our sights on the annual Dartmouth, Yale University and Columbia University face-off on Saturday, Jan. 21 in Leverone Field House.

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