Runnin’ on a prayer: cross-country athletes take on NAIA qualifying half-marathon

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  Distance running is one of Bethel’s year-round sports, not taking any breaks. Distance runners go from cross-country in the fall to indoor track in the winter and back outdoors again to outdoor track in the spring. However, there are few distance runners who really “go the distance” vying to qualify for the NAIA track and field marathon championship. Distance runners Natalia Johnson and Breann Fawcett ran a half marathon last Saturday, December 2nd. They ran a time of 1:37:58, just six minutes shy of qualifying for the marathon. Impressive, yes. But there’s more to this race than meets the eye. “Most of the time when athletes run the half-marathon at the end of their cross country season, it usually means they’re trying to qualify for the NAIA outdoor track and field meet where we actually have a marathon,” cross country head coach Ryan Sommers explained, “You can qualify for that…by running a full marathon, or you can run a half.” Many NAIA schools gather their track students together and enter them in races against other NAIA schools to qualify for the championships, according to Sommers. That's why Sommers took the cross-country team to Grand Rapids to compete in this half-marathon. “A lot of the NAIA schools in the area and the region actually get together (and) bring up athletes and they run the half and they try to qualify," said Sommers. How many athletes from Bethel have run the half-marathon in the past? “We’ve had several,” Sommers said, “…We’ve probably had about 10 or 12 go up and run the half.” “They have to go through and talk to me about why they want to do it and why they want to try to qualify,” Sommers continued. “Then, we just continue training a little bit after the cross country. Whereas some people want to take a little bit of a break, they’ll continue training a little while, run the half and then they’ll take their break.” Not just anyone can request to run in this race, however. “They have to have good reasons for why they want to do it, to try to get there,” said Sommers. “For some, we use it as a one-year developmental piece, so they get a chance to try to run it and get a feel for it and then next year, they’re usually ready to attempt to qualify.” What are some of the reasons why runners would want to run the half marathon? “Some believe that the marathon is easier (for) qualifying than some of the other events, and to some extent it might be, but they have to have a real reason to do it,” Sommers said, “I don’t usually let anybody like a freshman or even sometimes sophomores do it. I might give them a chance to try and go to get experience, so they’re ready their junior and senior year…the marathon is a pretty brutal race, so letting a sophomore or freshman do it usually does more harm than good.” How did the participating runners feel about the race as a whole? “The race was actually really rough,” Johnson, a sophomore, stated, “For me at least, Breann (Fawcett) did really well. She was encouraging the whole time. During the last 5k, she prayed out loud to me while we were running. I was dying. She prayed about all kinds of things. Somehow, she mentioned my pinky toe in there. The first 5k was actually pretty good. It was a season best for me at least. I slowed down at least halfway.” “We were on target for the first five miles,” Fawcett, a senior, said, “We made a lot of friends. There were some Indiana Wesleyan girls that we ran with during the race and then another girl from Spring Arbor. That was fun, to know that everyone was going for the same goal, and we could encourage each other no matter what school, because you’re not competing against each other.” Although they did not qualify for the NAIA marathon championship, the girls carried on a post-cross-country tradition and managed to have some fun in the process. The cross country team will be back in action on the track when school starts back in session in January.
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