Many factors go into determining the outcome of a cross-country race. The runners’ ability, race strategy, race-day conditions, and temperature all contribute to which team wins. One of the most important things to consider, however, is the course itself.
A course’s influence on the runners can truly decide a close race. A 5K course could be incredibly hilly or completely flat, have a lot of sharp turns or just be one big loop, and be very grassy or mostly pavement. Some courses feature forests with roots sticking out at each step while others can be primarily open fields or even on a golf course. Every course is different, and this year the cross country team has seen a wide variety at many different venues.
Sixth Form co-captain Colin Stewart offers some insight into how the course affects a race.
“Depending on the course you’re running on, it can really affect what pace you’re running when you decide to make your moves, what people you’re going to be running with,” Stewart said. “It changes everything.”
As EA Day approaches, many wonder about the layout of the Fords’ home cross country course. Haverford’s home course for Inter-Ac races is typically Belmont Plateau, a course in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. For EA Day this year, however, the cross country course will be run on Haverford’s traditional EA Day home course around our campus and Haverford College.
Sixth Former and Fellow Co-captain of the cross country team Ben Szathmary describes this course as being special because “it’s a course-specific to EA Day.”
Since EA Day 2020 was canceled and 2019 was an away year, it has been three years since the cross country team has run this course. There are currently only four Sixth Formers who ran this course as Third Formers in 2018.
As for the design of the course itself, fans will be happy to hear that the race both starts and finishes on Haverford’s track at Sabol Field. Students, parents, faculty, and friends will be able to cheer on the Fords from the bleachers as they begin and complete the 5K race. After two laps around the track, racers will run up a hill and around Eagle Field onto Buck Lane. From there, they will follow along a stone path down a slight decline, traverse a bridge onto Haverford College’s campus, run two laps around the duck pond, and return back the way they came.
“I like the course because it’s quick; it’s compact.”Ben Szathmary ’22
“I like the course because it’s quick; it’s compact,” Szathmary said.
The course is generally very flat, with only a couple of small hills. It is also mostly run on the pavement. This combination has two important implications. First, runners’ times will be much faster than they would be on other courses.
The other more meaningful consequence for race strategy is that runners will be able to make aggressive moves late in the race. On a hilly course, it’s important to get ahead in the race early because it can be difficult to make up ground late in the race. On a flat course like this, however, runners are more likely to be able to pass competitors in the final stretches of the race, meaning there should be some exciting sprints to the finish line.
Both captains emphasized that EA Day 2018 was special because there were so many Haverford fans cheering them on.
“The entire Upper School was there,” Stewart said. “The effect was immeasurable . . . you can’t really describe it; you just run differently.”