While many runners are resting up today in preparation for the USATF-NE Cross Country championships tomorrow, we thought we’d help you get in the mood with a look back at the Mayor’s Cup. Back on October 25th, the NE Distance squad, led by Jim Spisak, came through with you could call a statement race. They won the team competition quite handily that day, and had some outstanding individual performances as well.
NE Distance came into existence in 2012, about a year after we got our start here at Level Renner. It’s been exciting to see them grow as we grow, both entities consisting of big ideas and shoestring budgets, right here in New England.
For a while they didn’t even have the bodies to field a team for races like the Mayor’s Cup. For example, if we look back at the 2014 Mayor’s Cup we’ll see that David Goodman, the elder statesman of the bunch, finished 6th last year in 24:15 as the sole NE Distance runner in the race. NE Distance was able to field more than a full team this time around even without Goodman, someone who’s been with the club since its inception. That speaks to the depth of the club, being able to let a guy with Goodman’s speed watch from the sideline and still get a win in a competitive field.
As you may be aware of already, the program is about so much more than just running though. It’s an athlete in residence program in which the runners work with kids in the Woonsocket/Providence area. They were able to re-start long dormant middle school cross country programs this past fall and really positively impact their community. It’s evident in the comments from program director Nich Haber, whom we contacted for a statement about the team’s win:
“We just had our season end celebration parties for the two middle school cross country programs, Providence and Woonsocket, that the NE Distance athletes ran this fall. We showed off the Squires Cup and the kids just went absolutely nuts. It was great.
The Mayor’s Cup win was really a validation of the NE Distance program. The fact that we’ve been able to recruit some truly great athletes and have them improve in our system demonstrates that what we’re doing is working. I’d like to specifically highlight performances by Katrina Spratford (who came in fourth in the women’s race behind Mary Cain) and Henry Sterling in 8th with a 24-flat as great breakthroughs.
This is pivotal year for the NE Distance project and we’re off to a great start.”
As Nich mentioned, Katrina was 4th overall in 17:27 for 5k. Consider the names in front of her: Liz Costello won in 16:35, followed by Liv Westphal (16:40) and Mary Cain (16:46). Not a bad day for Katrina! The women ran first, so you can say that Katrina was the pace setter for the team that day. She set the bar high, and the boys stepped up and answered the call.
We put a couple of questions out to the NE Distance men to see how the race went for them and what the win meant for the program:
What do you think of your own individual performance comparing your expectations coming into it vs how you did against the competition?
Steve: Mayor’s Cup ended up being a very competitive race this year, especially at the front. I was hoping to run part of the race near the front, but I ended up being farther back right from the start. Given the quality of the field I was OK with where I finished. Unfortunately I ran most of the race alone, but I think if I had gone out hard with the lead group, I would have paid for it later.
Henry: I had pretty high expectations coming in. Workouts had been going well and I was really happy with my fitness level. I just wanted to have a race situation where I could really go to the well and not worry about trying to be controlled. Given all of that, I was happy with how my race played out vs. the competition. It was a very solid field and I just wanted to put myself on the back of the front pack and see what would happen. I was excited with my time because it equals my PR for 8k which came from a much flatter course in college (Princeton).
What doe a win like this mean for the program? What does it mean to you?
Steve: For a young and growing program like NE Distance, this was an exciting team victory. This is the first time the group has had enough athletes to field a scoring XC team, so starting out with a win over some solid competition is really satisfying. There aren’t many opportunities after college to race with a full XC team so it was exciting to be on the line with six teammates again.
Henry: The win definitely means a lot. Coming from last year when it was just David and I on the guys side, it’s really cool to be able to have 7 guys by your side now gunning for a low team score and working together throughout a race. We’ve all been able to gel together well right from the start which has been great. But we’re obviously not just going to sit back and be satisfied with one XC race team win. I think the individuals on this team have some lofty goals as we move forward, and while the win was great we want to make some more noise during indoor and outdoor track.
Jim: Winning the team race at Mayor’s Cup is a step forward for the program in a few ways. It was great not only to have enough guys to score as a team for the first time but also to compete well enough to win a race with so much history in our area. As a program, we’re looking to keep progressing and gaining relevance on both the regional and national level, and Mayor’s Cup was definitely a positive in that way. Most of the guys had solid days and we’re excited to keep that momentum rolling as we go forward.
We are just as excited as they are to see what kind of noise they make during indoor and outdoor season! Next up for them is the USATF-NE xc championship race tomorrow where they’ll have a few runners on the line. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like they’ll have a team, but Katrina, Henry, Steve and Jake (Sienko) should be able to make some more noise on their own.