riak Invitational showcases nation’s cross country best

by David La

The University men’s and women’s cross country teams play host this weekend to one of the nation’s best-known running events: the Roy Griak Invitational.
A horde of more than 2,000 runners representing high schools, Division I, II and III colleges are set to unsettle the usually serene atmosphere of Les Bolstad Golf Course.
The Griak, in its 16th year, has already put its share of craze in the daily lives of both Minnesota coaches.
Women’s coach Gary Wilson called an emergency meeting with his staff after seeing a glimpse of last year’s Griak on videotape at a recent meeting.
“This meet has a life of its own,” Wilson said.
As for Steve Plasencia, coach of the men’s team, the upcoming meet has him “hanging on by my fingernails.
“On a year in, year out basis, aside from the NCAA’s, this has become the meet.”
While certainly prestigious, the Griak Invitational falls early in the cross country season. This fact discourages both coaches from re-writing the training manual to ensure top results.
“I’ll make some adjustments this year that have my guys a little bit fresher for this meet,” Plasencia said. “But I’m not going to sell the farm for it.”
The Gophers women took third last year, while the men finished a disappointing 14th overall in the Division I gold races.
With only five Big Ten teams running in the meet, Minnesota’s coaches and athletes are looking more for solid results in the intangible department, rather than head-to-head competition.
“Being the first big meet of the season,” runner Will McComb said, “it sets the atmosphere for the meets to come.”
With the NCAA women’s championship changing from five to six kilometers this season, the course at the Griak has also been extended.
The new terrain, introduced to the runners just past the four-kilometer mark, is “a lot of turns, a lot of up and downs; you really have to concentrate and focus,” Wilson said. “Because if you don’t, you can get mentally lost in there.”
For the athletes, a need for sustained focus is just as important as the physical side of cross country.
When the starting gun is fired, a large group of determined runners begin jostling for position, momentarily turning a distance run into a mosh pit with spikes.
“Elbows are flying everywhere,” McComb said. “I’ve even been cut-up a few times around the shins. It gets pretty rough.”
Even as the pack disperses, the desire to gain an edge does not.
“It can be physical,” runner Elaine Eggleston said. “Especially in tight turns, you elbow people and try to make them run a little bit wider on turns.”
With the rigamarole of the Griak upon them, the ever-gracious Gophers will once again welcome the competition to town.
And on race day, maybe even to the finish line.

David La Vaque welcomes comments at [email protected]