Cross-country coaches call it “peaking” — improving over the course of the year until you reach your best for the most important and competitive meets of the season.
Friday in Madison, Wisconsin, IU races in the Great Lakes Regionals. If the team can qualify for the NCAA National Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, the Hoosiers will race just eight days later.
For the No. 13 IU men’s team, it’s also a shot at redemption. The Hoosiers fell short two weeks agoof their first Big Ten championship in six years, finishing second at the Big Ten Championship meet to No. 9 Wisconsin. However, with the Badgers running on their home course, the Hoosiers’ focus is not necessarily on a potential historic championship.
“Would it be nice to win a Regional Championship,” IU head coach Ron Helmer said. “But it doesn't mean any more than finishing second through fifth if we make the national meet.”
Making matters more difficult, the eight-day turnaround will be the shortest recovery time of the year for the Hoosiers, who have had two weeks in between meets this season. Another factor will be a longer course. The 10-kilometer course is the longest the Hoosiers have run on all season.
The race may function as a dress rehearsal for IU to test its strategy and mindset on a longer course. For the large-lunged Hoosiers, a larger course should benefit a team with plenty of depth and endurance.
“I think it allows us to be more conservative and controlled early,” Helmer said. “We will feel like we are not as far back because we have nine or 10 extra minutes to correct what mistakes we make.”
IU will automatically qualify for the national championships in Terre Haute by finishing first or second in the region. However, anywhere between third through fifth should garner the Hoosiers an at-large invitation to the national meet for the second straight season.
For the IU women, qualifying for Terre Haute and the national championships for the third straight year will be a more significant challenge. After finishing eighth at the Big Ten Championships, IU fell out of the top 30 ranked teams in the nation.
Redeeming themselves will be easier with the least talented field IU has run against all year long. Just five ranked teams out of the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio will be racing. Overall it will likely be significantly less crowded near the front for the Hoosiers, potentially enabling them to run in a pack — something they have been unable to do all season.
Whether it’s been kicking too early or just running without any real strategy, the young Hoosiers have been unable to find many positive results.
“They are making what is pretty simple pretty difficult, but they are good enough to be better than they were, and in some cases we just did not execute right,” Helmer said. “They just need to simplify the process, and we will be just fine.”
A top-five finish, earning the team an invite to the national meet, would be fine for IU. However, the Hoosiers have enough qualifying points that even a sixth- or seventh-place finish may be enough to keep their season alive.
Freezing temperatures and snow on the course with be another factor Friday afternoon in Madison. Similar to last year’s national championship meet, runners will be contending with a brutal cold and slippery conditions that, at least for IU, they have not run on all year.
With long sleeves, hats and gloves, the Hoosier runners will run for their season Friday.