Day 1: Courage, Camaraderie, and Clipboards
7 years ago, a plucky organization of volunteers who had previously planned nothing but half marathons and other road races decided that it was time to expand their race repertoire to better serve the college runners that frequented their races. What they planned next was the first rendition of the NIRCA Spring Track Championships, including only a half marathon, a select few distance and sprint events, and excluding all field events. Over the years it has grown, improved, and morphed alongside college club running culture into the gorgeous and eclectic extravaganza full of elite caliber athletes, dedicated running junkies, and absurdist meme lords. It is this alternate universe that UMD Club Running entered as four rental vans, fresh with a coating of Indiana highway dust, pulled into the parking lot of the track the University of Miami of Ohio. Fueled by a burning desire to compete, coasting off the strength of months of consistent training, and motivated by a coaching staff of broke boiz Ryun Anderson and myself (who entered the meet armed with 9 clipboards primed for smashing in celebration/frustration), UMD Club athletes pit themselves against club athletes from all over the country.
Track action got off to a quick start in the 100m prelims, with Ian Lynch finishing in 13.44s and Kareem McDavid in 11.98s. Onlookers sat amazed not only at the performances, but at the fervor with which UMD Club athletes cheered on the “Kareem of the Crop,” specifically with how they continuously smashed a clipboard on a fence, trying to break it in celebration. One NIRCA representative even praised the team’s spirit, stating “Yeah, don’t do that.” Inspired by this feedback, Treasurer Brian McCullough responded by severing the first clipboard of the day with his knee, technically heeding the advice of the NIRCA representative. Immediately following the 100m dash, lone hurdler Dylan Briske began his triple event weekend with a 1:10.58s finish, where he miraculously did not have to jump over his blocks as he finished this time.
Fans relocated themselves around the track to achieve maximum cheering volume for the next event: the women’s 5k. The first of two heats featured Maddie Mandich, who even-split her way to a season PR of 21:48, while only being minorly distracted by the pack of wild animals in UMD clothes willing her on with creative chants from the other side of the fence (earning UMD Club a feature on NIRCA’s Instagram story). Mandich’s time was almost a 70 second improvement from her time at the Terrapin Invite a week prior. The second (and final) heat of the women’s 5k featured the dynamic roommate duo of Julia Heiges and Shannon MacMaster. Heiges fought hard to a time of 20:26, while MacMaster pulled away from all but three runners, placing 4th for an All-American finish with an absolutely absurd time of 17:48, going under the previous club record by over 40 seconds and PR’ing by a similar amount. Onlookers sat dumbstruck by the performance, and some coaches and their assistants were so excited that they even destroyed their own clipboards (that’s 2 and 3 right there). MacMaster would immediately celebrate this performance by skipping the awards ceremony in favor of an extended cooldown.
Attention turned back to the sprint squad, as McDavid and Lynch doubled back to run 23.72s and 26.83s respectively in the 200m dash, while Corey Townsend, well warmed up after driving back the hotel to grab his spikes, stepped on the track and laid down a 25.84s performance.
Just as quickly as the they left the track, the women’s distance team returned to field a 4 x 800m relay composed of a doubling Heiges and Mandich and a fresh pair of 800 specialists: Kate Eckart and Katrina Hrabinski. Hrabinski executed a tactically flawless 2:25 lead-off leg, complete with a certifiably feral final 200m in which she passed 3 competitors and handed off in 4th place. Heiges held her ground well against competitors in the second leg with a 2:49, passing off to Mandich, who, even on tired legs, smashed out a 2:56. Eckart anchored the way home, making two key passes on her way to a 2:26, securing a 7th place finish for women’s 4 x 8 in 10:37, which incidentally ensured that every single female competitor from UMD earned an All-American award.
After a couple boring sprint semifinals immediately following the 4×8’s (in which, I would like to point out, the winning men’s time was 7:49 holy moly), the stage was set for 2 hours of pure endurance, agony, and passion. Yes, it was time for a NIRCA Nats special: 6 heats of men’s 5ks, and luckily enough for UMD, we managed to have someone in each heat of the 5k. Don’t ever say we don’t have a wide pace range on this club. Teammates flooded the infield to shriek encouragement over every inch of the track.
Our first competitor was Matt Sebsibe, who, emboldened by his first track 5k in spikes, ran a smart race from beginning to end, passing competitors the entire way, including one particularly bold pass that just so happened to end the life of the fourth clipboard of the day. Sebsibe would close the final 200m in 38s for a massive season PR of 18:28. Justin Turner entered his heat in his traditional modest fashion, and then proceeded to prove that he was actually hustling us the whole time, like that episode of Drake and Josh where Josh is really good at billiards. Good times. Stating that his “stretch-goal” for the race was a 17:40 due to lack of consistent training, Turner proceeded to chase the front pack for his first mile, which took him out in 5:24. While the pace may have waned as the race went on, the effort never did, and Turner proved that by shifting gears from 42 second 200’s to ~37 second 200’s in the final 600m, for a very near lifetime PR of 17:28, well past Turner’s stretch goal.
Heat three was populated by two club veterans: Vice President San Dinger and Resident-Guy-Named-Briggs Briggs. In a show of pure NIRCA spirit, your very own VP charged out in the front and provoked the crowd for noise, “meming” his way through the first mile in 5:10. Briggs, as a change of pace, was not the meme of this race and took the more modest approach, even-splitting his first two miles. Singer would later pull away from the field alongside two other competitors to set a lifetime PR of 16:19 (though he could not defeat the heat winner, the grossly mis-seeded “grown-ass man,” Virginia Tech’s Harry Wood), while Briggs was narrowly edged out by the women’s 5k champion by about 7 seconds, running 17:09.
Heat 4 marked the beginning of the year of the Matt, as freshmen duo Matt Laskowski and Matt Stasiukevicius duked it out with an incredibly deep field. Laskowski, a self-proclaimed “no-kick” kind of runner, poured his energy into the first two miles, hanging on to the lead pack to shoot for a quick time, while Stas tucked into the back of the field. At the end of mile two, Stas seemingly floated past the enormous field to take second place in a staggering PR of 15:46. Laskowski would follow soon behind in a huge PR of 16:06. The two would commemorate their PR’s with a two halves of deservedly smashed clipboard number 5. Heat 5 featured a notably hat-less Rylan Flint, who sat perfectly relaxed on the leaders for 2 miles. Flint executed a clever race strategy that carried him to a lifetime PR of 15:34, which also earned him a finish in the top 20.
Finally, exhausted fans on the infield stepped up to their final challenge of the gauntlet: cheering on the fast heat of the men’s 5k, starring hometown hero Mitch Welter. Welter, who missed the entirety of his freshman and sophomore seasons of outdoor track due to nagging injuries, entered his first track championship with grand expectations. Excitement rode high for 8 laps as an enormous pack of about 20 runners stayed bunched in the front, each of them flirting with 15-flat pace. Welter positioned himself perfectly in front of a tidal wave of runners, sometimes even pushing up to challenge the leader himself. The paced certainly lagged a bit in the middle mile (if you can call 4:55 lagging) as leaders interchanged, and it wasn’t until about 4.5 laps to go when the pack at the front burst, giving way to a line of runners all battling for a podium spot. While fans watched on in uncertainty, Welter never faltered in the final mile, blowing by two competitors in the final lap in about 65 seconds to seal a 15:09 PR and a 6th place finish as an All-American. Fittingly, Welter’s 6th place finish doomed the 6th clipboard to same fate as its predecessors, and just like that, the long, tired days of 5k’s were finally over.
During the endless storm of 5k’s, Briske had recovered from his stint as a hurdler and snuck in a 4.94m long jump performance. However, Briske’s day was far from over, as he stepped up alongside Townsend, Lynch, and McDavid in the men’s 4 x 100m. Excessive amounts of “salt” were reportedly pumped through McDavid’s veins as the UMD men’s 4 x 100m wrapped up the event with a ~67% handoff success rate. However, as any STEM student will tell you, 67% is typically a C+ with the curve, and everyone knows that C’s get degrees.
The long day was wrapped up with the 1500m. Mandich stepped up to complete a tough triple of 5k, 4×8, and 1500, as she savagely flexed on two girls before essentially erasing them from existence as she kicked past them, hitting a season PR of 5:55 despite the fatigue.
Mandich’s performance was followed by the loaded final heat of the women’s 1500m, which featured a star-studded squad of MacMaster, Hrabinski, and Eckart. MacMaster, a self-proclaimed “5k-runner,” glided to the front of that race alongside Penn State’s Suzanne Stein (last year’s 5k champ) and Purdue’s Lucy Hilarides (this year’s 5k champ, who ran 17:02 earlier and also destroyed Briggs’ will to exist). Up against seasoned competitors with such storied credentials, it seemed, at least to the fans, as though a third-place finish would be a perfectly reasonable for MacMaster.
That’s what made the subsequent events so utterly astonishing; MacMaster threw in a surge with 500m to go and hit the bell lap in the lead. UMD athletes scrambled in a frenzy around the infield to will her onwards, hoping to help her outlast the imminent kick of Hilarides and Stein.
However, MacMaster’s lead on the two champs only grew, until about the 200m, when fans began to suspect that the kick simply wasn’t coming from the second and third runners. Indeed, MacMaster powered downed the final straightaway as UMD athletes screamed themselves hoarse to celebrate UMD Club Runnings’ second ever NIRCA National Champion (and first ever female one): Shannon MacMaster, 1500m, 4:44.13. MacMaster’s mark obliterated her own club record from a week prior by 4 seconds, and she was joined at the finish line by Hrabinski, who was narrowly edged out of 9th place in 5:02, and Eckart, who improved upon her previous PR by 2 seconds in 5:08. Coach Anderson, moved by his team’s effort and the history he had witnessed, blasted the seventh clipboard out of existence, and turned to focus on the final few races of the day.
After a wildly successful race by the women, the excitement seemed to bleed into the first heat of the men’s 1500m. Comeback kid Nate Lieske was unfortunately foiled by the track officials, who controversially denied his God-given right to race in an oversized bunny mascot head that he purchased at Wal Mart a day prior. Nevertheless, Lieske proceeded to dazzle the crowd with his ceremonial handcrafted Jorts, as he laid out his first official track race as a UMD Club athlete in 5:08, sealing the last 50m whilst eating a carrot that he had in his pocket the while time. Sebsibe, Briggs, and Turner all doubled back after their 5k’s to run what Coach Anderson refers to as “literally everyone’s 1500,” complete with (1) an unnecessarily fast first lap, (2) an incredibly slow second lap, and (3), in the case of Turner specifically, “WHEEEEEELS” in the last 400m. Sebsibe, Briggs, and Turner finished in separate heats with times of 4:54, 4:35, and 4:33, all of them featuring some very pronounced acceleration in the final lap.
The absolute final race of the day belonged to McCullough, whose most pronounced exertion of the meet thus far had been smashing the team’s first clipboard. Hoping to score from the 2nd to fastest heat, McCullough shot off the line surrounded by a dense crowd of what could only be described as “mouth-breathers.” While inhibited slightly by the traffic surrounded him, McCullough reportedly channeled several spirits and attained Nirvana as he unleashed his kick in the final 300m, earning him a 13th place finish in 4:04.
After some brief lunch in downtown Oxford, the team returned to quiet Connersville, Indiana, to rest up for the second day of Nationals competition.
Day 2: The Biggest Storm that Never Happened
Nerves were tense on Saturday night, as the outlook on Sunday’s weather looked dismal: rain and thunderstorms from 8AM to 3PM, which incidentally, was exactly when the meet was scheduled to take place. NIRCA drafted contingency and cancellation plans for both the half marathon and the final track events of the weekend, and UMD Club Running did the same. In order to keep people out of the rain as much as possible, the team elected to shuffle the car assignments to send the car of half marathon runners to the meet on time, while allowing the rest of the team to sleep an extra two hours and keep out of the rain.
These plans, while thoughtful, proved overly cautious, as the storm shifted away from Oxford, leading to slight drizzles in the morning that soon gave way to completely clear skies. Half marathoners took advantage of this miraculous turn of events to bring even more hardware for the club. Spurred on by an unencumbered Mitch Welter, who furiously shuttled himself around the half marathon course to catch a glimpse of the race whilst blaring the Pokémon theme song, the seven half marathoners of UMD flew over Oxford hills before making a beeline back to the track for the finish.
Not only did Adolfo Blassino win the first 400m of the race (which, in the end, is the part that matters), but Rylan Flint, rebounding off of a stellar 5k PR from Saturday, stunned the field and the spectators as he blazed back on to the track to win the race in 1:13:23 by over 20 seconds, making him the Club’s second NIRCA National Champion of the weekend and the third in history. While the reaction to the victory was certainly delayed, Flint’s performance was deemed too impressive to allow another clipboard to survive, and thus, clipboard number 8 met its end in emphatic fashion. Flint not only smashed the oldest record on the club record books (2007, incidentally the only record not from this decade) by over 2 minutes, but led the male half marathoners of UMD to a third place finish. Indeed, the half marathon was scored by taking the total time of the top three runners from each team, meaning that new All-American Brian McCullough (8th, 1:16:23) and VP Daniel Singer (27th, 1:21:52) helped earn a shiny new trophy for the Terps. Supporting them was Jack Reimer (42nd, 1:24:47) and Blassino (54th, 1:26:46).
While not fielding enough runners to be scored as a team, ever-together pair Julia Heiges and Shannon MacMaster ran side by side for the entire race, with Heiges kicking past MacMaster in the final 100m in thrilling fashion. That kick earned Heiges a 10th place, All-American finish and MacMaster 11th place, both with times of 1:35:23.
Once the half marathon had cleared off the track, the sun broke out of the clouds and the 800m finals began. Maddie Mandich completed the toughest schedule of any UMD athlete by completing a quadruple of 5k, 4×8, 1500, and 800. Mandich would run 2:46, improving on her 4×8 split from a day before by nearly 10 seconds. A couple heats later, Mandich’s 4×8 teammate Kate Eckart was back on the track in the fastest heat, where she blazed out a first 400m in 70 seconds before making several key passes on the final 200m, finishing in 2:25. Uncertainty permeated the air as the teams awaited results, as a few runners from the second fastest heat finished awfully close to the finishers in the fastest heat. However, it soon became clear that Eckart’s final kick had paid off; she placed 8th and earned her second All-American award of the weekend.
Lone wolf Matt Stasiukevicius was eager to show off his range after his monstrous 5k PR on Saturday, and it became apparent that nobody else on the team was. UMD fans waited through nine heats of 800’s before Stas graced them with an impressive show of speed for a 5k runner, splitting just below 60 seconds for the first lap and rounding out the finish in 2:04.
Finally, after a short day of track competition, UMD’s final race of the day arrived in the form of Katrina Hrabinski’s 3k steeplechase. Choosing to forego the 800m, Hrabinski walked into the finals as fresh as anyone could be after two hard races the day before. Hrabinski was racing the event for only the second time in her college career, and she employed a unique “heel-clicking” steeple form to battle it out with two Michigan competitors before sealing her second All-American finish of the weekend in a new club record of 12:12, good for 5th place. While spectators were forced to wait an extra hour for Hrabinski’s award to be given out, I think there can be no disagreement that the wait was well worth it. Sayonara, clipboard number 9!
— UMD Club Running (@UMDclubrunning) April 14, 2019
UMD Club Running pulled up to Miami of Ohio at 7:30AM on a Saturday morning. Two days later, they left with a four new club records (two from Macmaster, one from Flint, and one from Hrabinski), two national champions, twelve All-American awards, three separate features on NIRCA’s Instagram story, twelve confirmed lifetime PR’s, two newly mute coaches, zero Tinder matches, and notably, without the ability to simultaneously have nine people write things down against a portable firm surface whilst standing up. However, while NIRCA Nationals is always a season highlight, the season is far from over. Stay tuned for our final four track meets and the Frederick Half Marathon!