Hundreds of cars surrounded the illuminated, dew-drenched fields where Union’s cross-country team would meet for the first time this year. Along with the intensified yelling of parents and coaches, the atmosphere was further electrified from the DJ’s overwhelmingly engaging pump-up music and commentary.
The Memphis Twilight Classic, where liveliness filled the air and humidity was abundant, featured high school and college runners from around the Southeast.
The women’s race began at Saturday at 9:20 p.m. and was followed by the men’s at 10 p.m.
The late night race, along with the heat and humidity proved to be major factors in the team performance and something Union cross-country has not been a part of in previous years. Coach Gary Johnson said practices usually take place in the mornings, and most races occur before noon so there were obstacles in adjusting to the new atmosphere.
“I think the challenge of tonight was definitely the heat,” Johnson said. “In better conditions and cooler weather, we would have run faster.”
The women’s team finished the 4-mile race 10th overall out of 26 teams, while the men’s team finished 17th out of 26.
“I think [we] will be disappointed with our times, but if we look at our times relative to people we normally compete against, they’ll be comparable,” Johnson said. “All the teams suffered — it wasn’t just us.”
Will Donelson, junior chemistry major, said running at night made a significant difference.
“The sun was down, and the ground was hot,” Donelson said. “It was muggy and hard to maintain a pace without getting over-heated.”
Donelson said he looks forward to getting the opportunity to grow with freshman and motivate them while spending time with Bailey Bell during his senior season.
Jacob Whitney, junior cell and molecular biology major, also thought having the overpowering lights on the field created a strange sensation since it was also a dark, warm and sticky night.
Johnson said as the team moves forward, their workouts will change based on strengths and weaknesses.
“We can ask ourselves why certain parts of the race felt great and other parts not as much and what we can do to change that for next time,” he said. “Hopefully this race will motivate us.”
Freed-Hardeman University will host the team’s next races Saturday at 8:30 and 9:15 a.m.
“None of them are going to be satisfied, and I don’t want them to be,” Johnson said. “This is not the day to be feeling like we’re in our best shape. We’ll take the information we can get and start motivating [ourselves] for the race next Saturday.”