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The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

The Run: Dogfight in Connecticut

Varsity distance runner and former sports editor Jason Norris ’24 contemplates his outdoor track season opener at the University of Connecticut Dogfight Invitational

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Courtesy of Dartmouth Athletics Communications

Dare I speak for most track and field athletes, but the consensus among us is that the outdoor season is our favorite. Runners can’t help but get excited at the thought of transitioning from the grueling indoor season — which involves temperatures close to zero degrees outside, icy running trails and sunsets at 4 p.m. — to the more pleasant outdoor season. To me, the outdoor track season  signifies 75-degree weather, a more spacious 400m track to run around and post-practice swims in the Connecticut River. Track athletes  like to fantasize about the energy the outdoor season brings. However, the reality is that racing outdoors can be just as challenging as racing indoors.

On Saturday, April 1, I experienced this realization myself. 

That day, my alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. Soon after, my coach Sean McNulty, my teammate Jason Wang ’22 and I hit the road to the University of Connecticut. Jason and I were set to compete in the first track event of the day, the 3000m steeplechase  — a race in which runners have to jump over five tall barriers, each placed an equal distance away from one another on the track. One of these barriers has a pit of water after it that the runners must jump over. The steeplechase may seem strange, but it’s a real event, I promise! 

The ride down through the pouring rain consisted of  naptime, a quick pit stop for the bathroom and my realization that coach McNulty and I have shockingly similar tastes in music. As we arrived at UConn’s campus, we sensed the buzzing energy in the air. UConn’s run in the Final Four, coupled with recently admitted students touring the school, made the campus feel electric that day. Walking onto the track,  however, it was as if the athletic facilities had been clipped off like a toenail from the rest of the campus. It was a ghost-town whose only inhabitants were coach McNulty, Jason Wang and I standing in the pouring rain. The flooded track certainly did not provide the ideal setting for the outdoor race we had envisioned.

Warming up in the rain, Jason and I could hardly contain our excitement about the race. Our goal was to take control of the race after the first lap and ultimately place first and second together. 

The gun went off, and Jason Wang took the lead. We glided over the first three barriers and stared down the water pit barrier. Since the temperatures in Hanover are still below freezing even in April, we have not been able to practice with the water pit on Dartmouth’s track. . This was our first time in nearly a year jumping on a water pit barrier, so we had minimal preparation for it. Relying on our muscle memory, we hopped on top of and pushed off the barrier. As my right foot landed in the pit, cold water splashed on my body and shocked my muscles. My legs shot me out of the water pit as quickly as possible, and the race continued with Jason Wang leading. 

In the final 800m, I poorly executed a couple of hurdles. Feeling some self-doubt, I dropped back a few seconds. After a 200m-long moment of weakness, I refocused and regained my form, unable to close the gap but chasing through the last piece of the race. I placed second in a time of 9:25 to Jason Wang’s first place in 9:21.

For a season opener, we got the job done. Despite the poor weather conditions, we managed to remind ourselves what it felt like to race over barriers, and we qualified for our next race at the Larry Ellis Invitational at Princeton University in two weeks. While the later weeks of outdoor might hold more promise for sunny skies and 70 degree weather, for now, we are in the hardy weeks of outdoor track in the Northeast. And with the improving weather, faster times will come. The season is just getting started, and, knock on wood, it’s all up from here.