By Elizabeth Oakes
For Logan Smith, senior English and history double major, his career in cross country began in middle school and continues through this final season in his senior year.
“One day I came across a huge hill in Knoxville and I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to run up that,’ and I did,” Smith said. “And just like Forrest Gump, I kept running.”
Smith explains the sport this way: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up and knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle … when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
As the cross country team switches divisions, the athletes begin each day with a run in dedication to the sport and the season.
Each morning at 5:45 a.m., Smith’s alarm sounds with the Paper Routes’ “Calm My Soul,” reminding him that it is time to run.
Meanwhile, his teammate Allison Martin, junior Spanish major, is most likely putting in her contacts after her 5:38 a.m. wake-up call.
“Running is a mental sport, and we are all insane,” Smith said. “I often wonder what it’s like to watch, because everyone looks miserable doing it.”
For Smith’s first three years of college, the men’s cross country team won several meets while competing in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. This year, the team made the necessary switch to the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The teams now face a new set of competitors and, unlike this transition year, in past seasons, Smith has known what to expect of his competitors. Although the conference change was necessary, it has placed the men’s team in a challenging season of flux.
“I don’t doubt at all that it was the right move (to join NCAA),” Smith said. “You have to look at the programs and make sure they are ones that will last and take you somewhere.”
While the men’s team is experiencing a tough transition, the women’s team has elevated its expectations this season, Smith said.
“The depth of the team has increased this year because we have three freshmen and two graduates who are new to the team, and all of them have performed really well in the races,” Martin said. “Our times have dropped a lot in comparison to years past, due in part to training and also due to being able to run together and push each other.”
Martin said he has noticed a difference in the reaction she gets when people hear the team is in NCAA and realize team members are running against tougher competition, Martin said.
“We race the same way in both divisions,” Martin said. “It has been harder to place higher than in past seasons because in the other division we had a more limited amount of competitive teams.”
The teams traveled to Birmingham Oct. 20 for the Gulf South Conference. Unfortunately, the women’s race times were slightly skewed due to a miscalculation in the race course. The race ended up being 3.32 miles instead of 3.1 miles, Martin said.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can count more than a minute off your time,” Martin said. “When I crossed the finish line … I was thinking [the time] didn’t match the effort that I gave. It may have been my fastest race, but I can’t say it was my fastest time because the distance didn’t match the time.”
The cross country teams will travel to Cedarville, Ohio, for nationals Nov. 10. Due to the transition year, the team cannot compete in the NCAA championship, Martin said.
“It’s hard to savor [the season] since it is in transition and flux,” Smith said. “But I take heart because I see the good that my teammates are doing, and I see the evidence of grace in their lives. That is the greatest part of the experience. Running comes second to what I get from being around them.”