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Friday, November 14, 2008

Great Lakes Regional Preview (Men)

Tomorrow I'll be going to Purdue! to watch the Great Lakes Regional meet for cross country. Seeing as I had a brief (unspectacular) running career at Purdue, I thought I would be able to give a good course description and maybe along with my predictions on how the race might pan out.

Purdue's course was designed by former head coach Mike Poehlein in 2001.  Since then it's hosted a few opens (I participated and fared unspectacularly), Big Tens, and regionals.  The course is one of only three Big Ten courses designed specifically for cross country (I know IU is one and I'd guess Wisconsin is the other).  The course has three varying terrain types: flat & fast, rolling hills, and larger hills.  Either last season or this season the course underwent a few minor changes implemented in an effort to allow the course to become more viewer friendly.  In fact now, the 5k, 7k, and 9k all crisscross through the same area.  Here's how the course lays out:

The first 800m are extremely flat.  The grass is short and footing is good.  The start is wide and stays wide so that all runners have the same advantage.  The first 800 meters have no tricks or turns and you can expect the race to start at a pretty fast yet comfortable pace.  After about 800m there is a right hand turn and course narrows.  The course stays flat and fast and pretty much out of sight through the 1k.

The 2nd k is where the course starts to vary a bit.  Shortly after the 1k marker the runners will reappear to the crowd and work their way across a large field towards the tennis courts.  The course remains flat and extremely fast through here.  You can expect the runners to maintain a tight pack thus far as there have been no significant turns and no hills. Shortly after the first mile marker, the runners make a right hand turn and work their way towards the back hills.  The pack should start to break up a little bit once they hit the hills.

The runners are working their way in a slightly wooded then prairie setting with rolling hills.  The runners should be able to maintain their pace as these hills do not pose a particularly significant challenge at this juncture of the race.

Once the runners hit 3k the course becomes a little tricky.  There is a large, steep hill where the runners are forced to make a sharp left-hand turn at the bottom.  If the ground is bit damp or slippery it is likely that a few runners could tumble all the way down the hill or even slide off the course while trying to navigate the turn (speaking from experience here).  I am curious to see how the lead pack handles this maneuver.  Directly after this the runners will be running on a curve (picture a horseshoe) which is the lowest elevated portion of the course.  As the runners work their way back they will be forced to conquer the most difficult part of the course.  
The uphill is short but not sweet. The first hill is 250m and gets steeper the higher you go. Tough!  Immediately after reaching the summit the runners make a left turn and are forced climb a much shorter--but still steep--hill.  Once reaching the top of this hill there are rolling hills to the 4k.

Once getting to the 4k the runners will head back into the ravine which is a pretty large down-up hill immediately followed by rolling hills. I expect the lead pack to start to pull away in this section of the course.

This part of the course is near the start which means its extremely flat.  The runners essentially run the first mile backwards as they gear up for the 2nd part of the race.  This mile split should be blazing.  I fully expect a team to make a move in this part of the race.

The runners run right by the starting line again.  The course is very wide and if someone were to wait until this section to make a move there would be few obstacles. It ends running through a small wooded section before opening up near the 7k.  Again, this section of the course is very flat and fast.

The course goes from being flat and works its way back towards some of the larger rolling hills. The runners will avoid the large hills but the rolling hills still prevent them from getting much of a break.

Runners will hit the ravine area with the large down-up hill.  The course remains slightly rolling and then the runners are forced to go back through the ravine area as they head back towards the finishing loop.  I fully expect the top individuals to break away in this area.

This part of the race is a large loop around the finish.  The crowd will be able to see nearly the entire 10th kilometer so the noise should be significant.  The last 400m are up a small hill with a turn around 200m.  If there's a sprint to the end everyone will see it and whoever is able to stay on their toes the best as they go through the small incline will be victorious.

The Great Lakes Regional has been one of the most loaded regionals in the recent past.  I'm not so sure that's the case this year with only Wisconsin, Michigan, and Notre Dame ranked.  Previously squads such as Butler, Indiana, Eastern Michigan, Michigan St, and Miami have vied for at large births but I believe only Notre Dame and either Indiana or MSU will claim bids this year.  Sorry Spartan fans but I'm picking IU.  The real question boils down to who will win?  Michigan got off to a strong start at Big Tens before Wisconsin overtook them around the 6k mark to take the title.  I don't see much changing here even with a slightly more challenging course. As long as the race is 10k Wisconsin remains supreme.

Individuals to watch:
Sean McNamara (Mich)
Josh Karanja (EMU)
Andy Baker (Butler)
Landon Peacock (Wis)
Stuart Eagon (Wis)
Matt Withrow (Wis)
Christian Wagner (Wis)
Justin Switzer (Mich)
Craig Forys (Mich)
Adam Sprangel (MSU)
Brennon Plotner (IU)
Ben Hubers (IU)
Jake Walker (ND)
Patrick Smyth (ND)

My guess at top 5:
Notre Dame
Michigan St.

Patrick Smyth
Stuart Eagon
Christian Wagner
Sean McNamara
Tim McLeod

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