This year, cross country fans will be able to cheer on the Seawolves here in Anchorage on Oct. 21 at Kincaid Park. The hills of Kincaid will be a challenge, but UAA athletes will have the advantage of training on them before the race.
UAA’s cross country team normally travels out of state to compete in races against colleges other than UAF.
The Greater Northwest Athletics Conference cross country championship will bring nine other colleges to Anchorage to compete.
At the GNAC championship last year in Monmouth, Oregon, the men’s team placed third overall and the women’s seventh, according to goseawolves.com.
UAA’s Cole Nash came in first and received the title of GNAC’s Men’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year.
Alfin Nyamasyo was the fastest UAA female, coming in 20th place.
In an interview with The Northern Light, Chas Davis, associate head cross country coach, seemed confident in the team’s ability to perform this year.
Davis said that the men’s team had a deep bench and that, after Nash, everyone else was consistent and interchangeable.
Cross country is a team sport, so the winning team is determined by the performance of each team’s top five athletes. Athletes get points that correspond with their standing: first gets one, second gets two, etc.
The team with the lowest score wins the race overall. So, even with someone in first place, a runner coming in 80th can drag down the place of the entire team.
Teams can run additional athletes, but their standings won’t factor into the score. Their contribution can be strategic, though; they can take up places and push other runners down in standings.
Davis said that’s why having the depth of additional runners on the team who can perform is important.
In a follow up email, Davis wrote that the goal for the women’s team is to improve on where they were last year.
“It's too early to say exactly how we compare to [last year’s] GNAC competition, but it's possible that we could all run out of our minds and still place 6th, and that would be a very good day for us.”
He wrote that the women’s conference has more depth this year, but so does UAA. He pointed to transfer Nell Barker as someone who could help make a difference.
“She has the potential to compete with the best in the conference.”
Davis said that the Kincaid route is the hardest collegiate course he’s ever seen.
And he’s seen a few of them.
According to his bio on goseawolves.com, Davis was the cross country team captain at Creighton University where he started his coaching career in 2005. He most recently served as head coach at Holy Names before coming to UAA.
Davis gave credit to head coach Ryan McWilliams for helping bring the race to Anchorage.
“Ryan was a big driver.”
The men’s race will be an 8K and the women’s a 6K. The courses are a double loop and follow similar paths. They start in the stadium below the Kincaid Chalet and loop up and around to the north.
The route has plenty of ups and downs, and — at the extreme — athletes will run up a 90-foot elevation change over just one mile.
Having the course on home turf has some advantages, said Davis. UAA will get to train on the course prior to the race, and UAA cross country runners already know what to expect from the hilly Kincaid Park trails.
Michael Zapherson was UAA’s number two runner last year. In an interview with The Northern Light he said that the fact that they are not traveling will make a difference.
To prepare for the race, he said that the best thing was to just train well. Though he did mention his own pregame ritual of eating a whole bag of banana chips the night before a race.
Zapherson said another thing he does is meditate before a race and visualizes running alongside the other runners. He said that it helps him prepare emotionally to be on the course.
Whatever the preparation, running in Alaska can come with some unique challenges, like snow, moose or bears.
Ian Marks, UAA’s assistant director for athletics, said in an interview that they are starting to plan early for these kinds of situations, they Want to be prepared so they don’t have to scramble during the race.
He said he helped design the course and pointed out that runners have raced in extreme weather, such as snow and rain, in the past.
For anyone who wants to watch the Seawolves run, admission is free and there is parking available at the stadium and Kincaid Chalet. The women’s race is slated to start at 11 a.m. and the men’s at noon.
For future announcements about the race, visit goseawolves.com.