Cross Country Chronicles

The 2009 UC Davis men's cross country season is underway and each week we will check in with a member of the team to get an exclusive inside look at what makes Aggie!

Junior Russ Pfaff answers a few questions about the level of competition coming up at the NCAA West Regionals race Saturday, Nov. 14.

Russ Pfaff in action at the Hornet Jamboree.

Unlike most other sports, cross country runners dedicate months of preparation to five races that may total just over two hours of total racing. What provides you the drive and focus necessary for such a commitment?
My motivation and drive, in the past, has come from me wanting to prove people wrong. I was really small all the way through my junior year in high school, and I was always counted out on account of my size so my heart and dedication grew because I wanted to prove people wrong, especially by beating them when we raced head to head.

Discuss the level of competition found in the Big West Conference and West Region. What are the positive and negative aspects of running in such settings?
Running in the Big West is good for our team at this point because we are on the verge of breaking through to the next level, and our team is heading in that direction. The conference is good for us in that regard with decent teams like (UC) Santa Barbara and Cal Poly, but our hope is to not only run strong in our conference but become a perennial contender on the regional level. Our region is very strong with Oregon, Stanford and Washington etc., and that is good because we do face, literally, the best teams in the nation but it also makes it very hard to get our team past the region meet to the national championship.

What sort of adjustments do you, individually, and the team as a whole have to make in order to transition from 8 to 10 kilometers for the regional race?
Our teams success or failure in Oregon this week (at the West Regional meet) will depend, as it has all year, on our ability to get out evenly, while not getting out too strong, in order to put ourselves in a good spot in the race. The additional two kilometers really breaks people, and finishing strong is so much more important than going out hard and dying early because people fall off really hard toward that last 1500m. If our guys get out smart then we will do fine because we are pretty strong right now and have trained to excel at the 10k distance.

In 2007 you ran the Regional course in Eugene (site of this year's race). As a junior now, how do both you and your team differ from where you were two years ago?
Well this year is extremely different for two reasons. First, in 2007 we were just trying to beat some teams, and we were very inexperienced. This year, however, we are looking to do some damage and make it out of the region. We have at least two guys that could get to nationals and we are more experienced as a group. As long as our team runs as they are capable then we will do pretty well!

Jonathan Sees, a junior from Newark, Calif., discusses what it's like to make the switch from track and field to cross country and how a team can come together no matter the outcome of a race

Already four minutes into my race I realize that no one has stopped yet. I look up but see no finish line in site, and this is when I remember that this is cross country. The familiar red of the track is not under my feet, and is instead replaced by the changing terrain of dirt, grass, and who knows what else. Lifting my eyes from the ground I look up, put one foot in front of the other and sing a song in my head for another 20 minutes until I cross the line and am greeted by my team. This sensation epitomizes the biggest change I have undergone in the past months, that of joining a team.

Since my first year at UC Davis I have been looking to fill a void lost from my high school days; the feeling of knowing you did your best for the person next to you, getting back on the bus and cheering for a singular team victory, not a few wins by individuals and a couple second place finishes. This is my first college season that a team is directly dependent on me, and it feels great, I love putting in hard work for people other than just myself. So far this year, my hard work has been paying off for the rest of my team, and their hard work has motivated and inspired me in my journey as a converted cross country runner.

Jonathan Sees

I am three races into my season at this point. My first collegiate cross country race was in Sacramento, where we handled business and put a wind of confidence in our sails. It would be two weeks later that we would catch our first glimpse of team anticipation at the Stanford Invitational when we placed 3rd and narrowly lost to Cal by a mere point. While those two points would have been nice to have, we knew that other schools would begin to take notice, and while we are not solely looking for respect this year, the ride home was a good one, knowing we had the rest of the season to get some victories and add to the confidence under our belts. We also knew we would have to return to work for the next three weeks to get after more teams at Pre-Nationals in mid-October.

Against all my thoughts and wishes I had, the next week of mine was spent in my room, in my bed, by myself. Apparently I was misinformed when I asked for the flu shot. They had just given me the flu. At least I know for next time to ask for the flu vaccine. With the flu finally behind me, I packed to leave for Indiana, where we would be sure to kick our feet clean through the door on the national scene. When our plane finally touched down and we stepped outside of the airport, my body filled with joy when I was able to see my own breath, I knew this was going to be a good weekend. And indeed it was great: beautiful runs, beautiful weather, and beautiful people; unfortunately I couldn't stare at BenD (Ben DeLand) the whole time! The weekend was great until right around noon that Saturday afternoon, our race was ending and it was clear that as a team we had collectively collapsed.

I crossed the line hoping that somehow I was the only one with a bad race and that everyone else had had the races of their lives, but the same thoughts seemed to be running through their minds as well. Where had we gone wrong? I spent the whole weekend thinking about this. Were we not that good? Had we been lucky in both of our other races? Where did we go next? And I finally came up with my answer: I had no clue what went wrong nor was I positive as to where we would go next. I did know that wherever I was going and dedicating myself I would be with my team. I knew I would not be alone in my journey back to the top. They would be right with me, and that's a good feeling.

Since returning from Indiana only a few short days ago, I can already sense something different, and I don't know what it is, but I have a feeling the next month leading up to conference and the regional meets are going to be something fun and special. I'm excited to see how it unfolds and how all of our individual hard work intertwines into one beast of a team, on a mission, ready to attack, scratch, claw and do whatever it takes to get to the top.

Junior transfer Matt Sartori tells about his experiences as a newcomer to UC Davis.

Running has taken me to many places I never even thought of. This year running has brought me to the University of California Davis as a transfer student. I didn't know what to expect when I arrived at campus, and I roomed with a teammate and another transfer for pre-season and found that I would be living in one of the sweetest pads near campus for a month. That evening we visited one of our teammate's house with the rest of the team and watched, "Wet Hot American Summer". That's the first time I realized out that everyone rides bikes in Davis and long boarding around town takes too much effort.

After a week on campus we got to head to a beautiful, secluded place called Point Reyes for team camp. During the week we completed some fantastic training and good team bonding. After one of the runs we headed down to the beach to go for a swim. The water was so cold that I didn't know why any one would want to go in, but we did it any way. During the last day of camp we climbed a mountain to find a hidden cave. Leading the expedition to the mountain was Andrew (Deck), now known as `Goop.' Andrew was like a bull in a china shop, carving his way through the thick brush with a giant stick. Following along were Kyle (Suarez), Russ (Pfaff), and I keeping our distance from the human brush hog. During the expedition we came across some poison oak to which only Andrew would be exposed, but the cave was well worth the trip.

Two weeks after camp we geared up for our first race at Sacramento State. I was able to wear the white and blue for the first time. For me it was a new experience representing a new team. I have been on many teams but I have never been on a team with its own groupies, `The Aggie Nation!' They dress up and cheer their athletes on like no other school out there. At the beginning of the race we do our pre-race ritual and the Davis cheer as only a Davis team member can do. Our team lined up, and when the gun sounded we headed to the front and charged up the hill. Our team led and finished the race in a fine fashion for a great start to the season.

After more than a month in Davis school started and I got to experience the first day of class. If you have seen pictures of people riding bicycles in China you know what it looks like on the campus of UC Davis. I expected to see all the new students crashing into each other on the round-about. The first week of school was very interesting, and I learned many new things about UC Davis. I found out my economics professor was friends with Ben Bernanke, the successor to Alan Greenspan; played with legos in my anthropology class; and found out the DC (dining commons) serves very good food.

For our second race of the season we jumped into vans and headed off to Stanford. This was our first 8k race of the year, and my first 8k ever. The race was going great, and the first five kilometers were easy as I was flying by hitting the marks I wanted to hit. But doom struck as I rounded one of the corners and bumped into one of the large stakes that held the flagging, and it pierced my shoulder, ripping my singlet in the process. After that the race became increasingly difficult since I had lost fifteen places and a lot of time. I decided that I would not let that pole incident keep me out of the race and proceeded to reclaim my position. I eventually did but made a fatal rookie mistake and wasted too much energy passing runners to get back in the race quickly. All the spots I had reclaimed I eventually lost as I was out of energy for the last 800 meters of the race. That day I learned that good preparation can only get you so far, and that sometimes things happen that are out or your control.

After the Stanford Invite the team is back to work preparing for our trip to Pre-Nationals in mid-October. We're excited about the chance to race against some of the best teams in the country and hope to make the most of the opportunity.

Senior Scott Himmelberger talks about the team's preseason retreat and gearing up for the Stanford Invitational Saturday.

Just three short years ago I was one of those bright-eyed freshmen nervously walking up the bleachers to meet my new teammates and start my first cross country season. Now, as a fourth year, I still experience those same nervous butterflies and am equally excited to meet the newest members of the team. What better way to get over all that nervousness than to go to one of the most beautiful places in the world and spend a week just running and getting to know each other?

After a few days of training in Davis our team left for a week-long stay at Point Reyes National Seashore along the northern California coast where our team hosts its annual cross country camp. Aside from picking up a few tricks over the years such as knowing which bed to claim or how to sweet talk myself onto the best meal shifts, camp is a new and exciting experience every year. Each time has been better than the last and it pains me to say that this was probably my last trip to Point Reyes with the UC Davis cross country team.

One of the state's hidden treasures, daytime highs in Point Reyes range from the mid to upper seventies with cool mornings and evenings ideal for running. The rolling hills offer miles of trails that provide the perfect surface for runners while offering beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.

A unique aspect of camp which makes it such a tremendous bonding experience is that we are given the opportunity to learn things about our teammates that we would not normally encounter. For instance, at first glance you would see Axel Stanovsky and think of him as no more than another brawny ladies' man from the forests of northern Washington. What you would not suspect is that he is actually one of the greatest Boggle players to have ever walked this planet. Many audacious challengers have put forth valiant efforts in hopes of dethroning Axel as reigning champion, but they were not successful. Nor would you guess that freshman Sarah Tusting can turn almost any ingredients into a gourmet meal in a matter of minutes.

Living as a full time runner for a week allows for a considerable amount of time to be devoted to reading, board games, and other leisure activities. One team favorite, Catch Phrase, involves one person seeing a common word or phrase, then rattling off clues to help their team guess it. A certain member of the team who will go unnamed had some trouble reading his clue and spent the duration of his turn trying to get us to guess "big diaper." It's been quite a while since I've laughed as hard as I did upon his and my team's realization that his clue had not been what a fat baby wears but rather the most famous constellation in our nighttime sky.

One of the traits of this team that I value most is how close we are outside of practice and competition. Most of the upperclassmen have decided to live with teammates in houses which have taken on various nicknames over the years. Whether it's a pasta feed at "The Manor," an afternoon barbeque at "Baja," or Monday Night Football at "Notre Dame" there always seems to be some sort of team gathering going on. If the NCAA sanctioned foosball, our team could be competitive with any in the nation as every team house has a table. Last year "The Manor" and "Notre Dame" faced off in a ridiculous but epic four-on-four match for the ages.

All kidding aside, this team is composed of the most tremendously focused group of individuals I have ever been a part of. Everyone knows he has a role to play whether it is setting the pace up front or pushing others from behind. It is really inspiring to see how hard people are working on a daily basis and we have begun to reap the rewards. After opening our season with smaller meets at the University of San Francisco and Sacramento State, the team is gearing up for our first real test at the Stanford Invitational. I am excited to see what we can accomplish this season and hope you will root for us and become a part of the Aggie Nation.

Go Ags!