On Oct. 24, the UCSC cross country program hosted its first race in over 26 years, the Banana Slug Invitational. The race featured three heats — the community 5K, men’s 8k invitational and the women’s 6k invitational.
Why was this the first race Santa Cruz has hosted in many years?
“1989 was the last time we held a race at Santa Cruz when we hosted the regionals. There wasn’t a program from ‘89 to about 2003, and it was women only until 2011. Partly it’s been because the coaches are happy with the options available. There are so many opportunities and races within the Bay Area. I decided to host a meet to try and find a solution to us not being in a conference. Everybody else is having their conference championships this coming weekend and there are no races. We like to race about every two weeks, so we’ve tried multiple options to keep people sharp and mentally prepared for races without over racing or racing too close to regionals. I was trying to find a good schedule working up to regionals.
I was trying to avoid some of the pitfalls i other coaches have reported to me, such as the university being resistant to allowing them to use any of the upper campus areas or the Porter meadow, which turns out to be a habitat for an endangered beetle. More than anything, that explains why we ran the race on the field. This late in the season most teams don’t want to send their runners to a physically challenging course, they want a flatter and faster course to keep them from getting too beat up before really important races coming up shortly after.”
What are you looking toward next in your season?
“Our next race is the NCAA regional championships down in Claremont at the Pomona-Pitzer campus. It’s a challenging course, we ran there about a month ago and ran well. We have been training with that course in mind. We do a lot of intervals down by the farm on the dirt roads because that is what the course is like, a lot of rolling gravel roads. We should be prepared for it with about three weeks to sharpen up. The plan is to have that race be the best of the season every year. The men will just do the best they can with the young crew, and we don’t have too pressured of an expectation, just that they do their best. But with the women we stated our goal to qualify for the NCAA Championships and we are sticking to that. We think we can pull it together and have a good day, and surprise some people.
As a team we hope to qualify for championships, and we have individuals who have realistic chances of qualifying for nationals. I think that because of our depth we have a good chance of our team making it in the top two or close enough that we squeak our way into nationals with an at-large berth.”
How important is it for your athletes to compete at home?
“Having a home meet — there is some pride in that. Several of the athletes were able to have their friends and roommates come see them race. The important part for me was being able to have a home meet to have a parents’ day. We had a picnic after the race, and the parents got to see their kids run and also got to meet each other. It builds some community within the program and that was one of the main reasons I wanted to do it.”