In his fourth and final year of competition, Ryan McCarl has once again returned to the Promised Land—only this time, he’s alone.
Blazing his way to an eight-kilometer time of 24:32 at last week’s Midwest Regional Meet, McCarl not only broke a school record but also punched his ticket to Saturday’s NCAA D-III Championship race at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. His showing landed him a spot as the third-ranked individual qualifier from the region. As a team, the Maroons finished 12th in a field of 35—in what is arguably cross country’s strongest region.
“I am very excited about going to Nationals, but even more so about breaking the school record. I ran 57 seconds faster at the regional meet than I have ever run before, and that’s a pretty big thrill. The greatest feeling you can get in a race is when you do something you never imagined you were capable of doing,” McCarl said.
This marks the senior’s second trip to Nationals, after he made it in 2005 as part of a Maroon squad that finished ninth in the country. McCarl will look to draw on his experience from past years and build on his 2005 finish of 121st out of 211 competitors.
In training for Saturday’s upcoming meet, the All-UAA First-Team honoree will stick to the same schedule that paid dividends at the regional meet.
“The hard work is all over. At this time we are doing workouts Ryan feels confident in and that don’t break him down,” head coach Chris Hall said.
McCarl will need to rest up in order to prepare for a tough course at St. Olaf, abounding with hills and uneven footing. Adding to the challenge will be Saturday’s forecasted weather of 32 degrees with a chance of snow.
“I haven’t seen the course, but Coach Hall knows it well. It is hilly and considerably more difficult in terms of terrain than the regional course, so I expect to run a much slower time,” McCarl said.
Of course it’s not the time that matters, but the order of finish. Undoubtedly McCarl will be up against the best the country has to offer, but if the veteran can squeeze into the top 35, he will attain coveted All-American status.
“My main goal is to represent my current and former teammates well at the national meet. I want them to be able to check the results on Saturday morning and see that it was a successful day and that I fought hard. My personal goal is to be an All-American. It’s a tall order, so I won’t be upset if it doesn’t happen,” McCarl said.
In order to attain that goal, over the course of the week Hall and McCarl have come up with a specific game plan for the fourth-year’s final cross-country race.
“My strategy is to race with my eye on familiar faces, the top runners at the Midwest Regional and the UAA Conference meet. I’ll be conservative at the beginning but try to keep the leaders within reach, and I will try to break into the top 35 between the second and third mile. From there, I’ll move up when possible and make sure no one passes me,” McCarl said.
Regardless of what transpires in Minnesota this weekend, McCarl will have the satisfaction of ending his career on the highest stage for D-III cross country.
“Running with the cross-country team and Coach Hall has been the most special experience I’ve had as a U of C student. The team is an incredible community of fun and brilliant people, and it is the reason I think of the U of C as a home. It is easy to give up on yourself in a race if it’s all about you and personal glory, but when you are wearing the Chicago uniform you remember that you are part of something much greater,” McCarl said.
McCarl will don that uniform one last time, looking to make a strong showing when the opening gun goes off at noon.