The starting line was crowded when George Mason showed up for the cross country conference meet this fall, especially for the men.
Instead of facing off against four other teams, the scene at the last Colonial Athletic Association meet, the Patriots were one of 13 teams in the Atlantic 10. The women had previously competed in a pool of eight teams. In their first year in the A-10, the Mason men finished third and the women eighth, with Bethany Sachtleben winning the overall women’s title. Longtime conference member George Washington finished 11th in the men’s race and didn’t score in the women’s race after a runner dropped out with an injury.
“There’s a lot more depth in the A-10,” said Patriots coach Andrew Gerard. “For a few years, the CAA has been a dual meet between us and William and Mary, and that got old after a while. Now we have some new faces, new teams to compete against. We always want to have our best races at championship meets, so now we have a new challenge.”
The men’s field in the CAA has atrophied as James Madison and Delaware cut men’s programs and Virginia Commonwealth and Georgia State left the conference.
Early leader Michael Conway (11th, 24:22) and John Holt (14th, 24:27) led the way with all-conference awards at Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville, Va., but Wil McRenolds (23rd, 24:43) Alex Ott (24th, 24:44) and Craig Morgan (25th, 24:45) all broke 25 minutes over 8k for the first time, closing the team’s scoring and locking the Patriots in with 97 points behind La Salle (27) and St. Joseph’s (75).
The men sported 10 finishers, a far cry from August 2008 when Gerard arrived with three distance runners on the roster.
“We’re light years ahead of where we were then,” he said. “Now we’re consistently getting looks from kids who can run 9:20 for two miles. We’ve been doing most of this work with home-grown kids, and that’s what’s been exciting — watching them develop.”
One such runner was formerly-home schooled Sachtleben. Having led the Patriots throughout her entire first year, she found herself in the middle of a sophomore slump.
“I think I came back a little complacent,” she said. “My first three races, I felt like I shouldn’t be hurting that much, I didn’t want to push it, so this race was the time I wanted to leave everything out there, because the pain would be nothing compared to what I’d feel after the race was over and I’d cross the line in first.”
As the pack meandered through the first mile on slightly rolling but hard ground, she was comfortable and a few rows back from the lead.
“I felt like I was jogging, but had to stay patient because someone was going make a move any time,” she said.
That someone was Richmond senior Jill Prentice, who won the 2011 conference title and saw the Pole Green course with relative familiarity.
“I went with her and decided to wait until she tired out and make my move then,” she said. “It happened right before the second mile mark and I just went for it. I didn’t know if she’d have anything left at the end, and I didn’t feel safe until the last bend.”
She cruised to an eight-second margin in 16:54.
“She’s gained a lot mentally this season over last,” Gerard said. “Last year, she’d do anything in a race, do it well and take it at face value. Now she has something to look back on and compare it to. It’s better than being a blank slate.”
He also commented that the 5k distance put her at a disadvantage, because she tends more toward long races. She qualified for the first round of the NCAA outdoor track championships last spring in the 10k.
“We’d be much happier if this was an 8k or 10k for her,” he said. “Sometimes these shorter, faster races exposes her to some shortcomings.”
With a hilly 6k coming up Nov. 15 in Charlottesville, Sachtleben isn’t ready to move too far up in distance just yet. But she isn’t the only long distance specialist at GMU. Holt finished third last spring at the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon, running 1:08:20.
“John had been putting in 130 miles for five weeks and he really thrives off of that, though you couldn’t tell by looking at this body type,” Gerard said. “He built that up over a long time and we figured it would be a good challenge for him to put that to the test.”
For the seventh year in a row, Washington, D.C.’s spring marathon champion was a college athlete who competed for something other than a track team. For the first time, though, it wasn’t former lacrosse player Michael Wardian.
[button-red url=”http://running.competitor.com/cgiresults?eId=54″ target=”_self” position=”left”] Results [/button-red]Peter Lawrence came to Washington with his family for a spring break trip requested by his daughter.After 20 hours of driving, with stops in New Orleans, Atlanta, the now-41-year-old, who played tennis at the Virginia Military Institute hit town for a week of sightseeing with a cadre of elementary school-age children.
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It just so happened that the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon was taking place while he was in town.
“I needed another marathon,” he said. “I did Houston two months ago and it was time for another one.”
He spent most of the race running alongside Wardian, of Arlington, who spent more than six months dealing with multiple stress fractures that disrupted his prolific long-distance racing schedule.
“I figured Michael knew the course, so he was the right guy to run with,” Lawrence said.
Apparently not, because course revisions in Southwest Washington and a confused bicycle guide led the duo astray in mile 16, adding approximately 30 seconds to their times. Wardian’s experience ended up serving neither of them, and for a while it seemed it only enlarged their gap behind frontrunner Jordan McDougal, who held more than a two-minute margin at 18 miles.
“It hurt my PR a little bit,” Lawrence said, noting his 2:32:27 today was almost 2:30 better than his Houston Marathon finish Jan. 13, itself a dramatic improvement over the same race last year, when he ran 2:42:09.
McDougal’s lead shrunk in mile 19 after his stomach got the better of him and he called it a day, not bad work for a guy who decided less than a week ago to give the race a shot. By then, Lawrence had broken away from Wardian and was on his way to checking off “win a marathon” on his bucket list.
“Once I saw I was in the lead, I just kept going and going, tightening the screws a little bit,” he said. “By 25 I felt pretty comfortable.”
He got a boost seeing his wife, son, daughter, niece and nephew in mile 18, where things started to happen for him and he saw himself realize a dream he didn’t imagine having a few years ago. He wouldn’t quite get the sub-2:30 he wanted, but he’s not complaining.
“I started as a middle-of-the-packer,” he said about his introduction to marathon running at age 39. “I got better with more miles and some track speed work. I never realized how much that helped.”
In Houston, Lawrence trains with the Bay Area Running Club. He’ll be back there less than two days after breaking the tape at RFK Stadium.
Meanwhile, Wardian didn’t seem to mind trailing by almost two minutes. For his fourth run longer than 14 miles since he started running again in late January, he was surprised to have run so fast. Though he won the Lower Potomac River Marathon six days before in 2:42:31, it was not without its complications.
“I had to stop in the middle,” he said. “My bladder’s not used to holding so much fluid. Luckily I got by without a stop today.”
He’s running about a third of his normal mileage, but after staring into a huge chunk of his calendar unable to run at all, just being out there is a gift.
“I was unbelievably pumped,” he said. “I started out just happy to be in the top 10, but then you get to the point where you realize you have a shot at the podium and you get a little greedy.”
Third place finisher Eric Senseman, of Madison, Wisc. didn’t mind feeling greedy as he moved his way through the top six when the half marathoners peeled off. He was racing in Washington for the first time, though he’ll be returning in June for the North Face Endurance Challenge.
“I felt like they shut down the whole city for me,” he said. “It was a cool way to see D.C.”
The men’s half marathon came down to a dramatic move made on the hill leading off of the Rock Creek Parkway to Calvert Street. Ethiopian Tumicha Horsa put a move on Falls Church’s Chris Mills that Mills couldn’t cover.
“We were moving along at a little under five-minute pace and all of a sudden there was a giant hill,” Mills said. “He got me by about 15 seconds, but after that I didn’t get any closer and he didn’t get any farther ahead until the last mile. My coach thought I could catch him, but he had a kick.”
Horsa, through an interpreter, said he wasn’t familiar with the course, so he gauged his move on how the race was going with Mills and when he saw the hill, he took his shot.
“When I got to mile 12, I pushed,” he said, via the interpreter.
Horsa ended up in 1:06:44, with Mills behind in 1:07:03 and George Mason University alumnus John Holt in third in 1:08:20.