On any given morning when there is nice weather here at Notre Dame, there is one thing you are bound to see around campus:  runners.  As the weather tends to get more South-Bend-ish, however, the likelihood that students will be out for a jog around the lakes becomes considerably slimmer—unless those students are on the Fighting Irish cross country team!

The Irish cross country squad competes during the fall season, with races beginning in early September and wrapping up with the NCAA D1 Cross Country Championships the weekend prior to Thanksgiving.  Head men’s coach Joe Piane has sent 21 of his teams to the NCAA Championships in the past 28 years and head women’s coach Tim Connelly has seen his squad finish in the Top Ten at the NCAA’s four of the past nine years.

For both men’s and women’s teams, cross country is a long-distance effort, with the men racing eight kilometers in most regular season meets then bumping up to ten kilometers in the postseason.  The women, on the other hand, race five kilometers during most of the regular season and six kilometers in the postseason.

Senior Men’s Team Captain Jeremy Rae gladly agreed to share some of his thoughts on running cross country with The Rover.

Rover: Why should people care about the cross country program here at Notre Dame?
Rae: Cross country is the second oldest varsity sport at Notre Dame next to football, and Knute Rockne even served as our head coach for eleven years. Over the years we’ve been one of the most successful and consistent teams at the NCAA level, and we plan on upholding this strong tradition.

What sets cross country running apart from other sports at ND?
Cross country is the least subjective of all varsity sports. The times that you run on a cross country course are very black and white, which makes it very easy to tell which teams are good and which are not.

If you had to describe our cross country team in 3 words, what would they be?
Extremely hard working. Two runs a day, 80-plus miles a week and plenty of time spent in the ice bath are only part of what it takes to be a competitive cross country team.

What are your goals for our cross country team, both in the short term and in the long?
While we’d like to be a Top Ten team at NCAA’s this year, our long-term and more important goal is to be a podium team (Top Five) by next season. We’ve got the talent and I’m confident that if we all run to our capabilities on the same day, we’ll get there.

“Extremely hard working” is right.  Although not all track runners run cross country, all cross country runners run both indoor and outdoor track.  That means that the Irish squad is outside on distance runs during all seasons of the school year to keep in shape.

Many of the Irish cross country runners have seen great success on the track as well.  Rae has boasted multiple sub-four minute miles and was a member of the 2012 indoor track national champion distance medley relay that also included senior John Shawel, sophomore Chris Geisting and fifth-year senior Randy Babb.  Junior Martin Grady was an NCAA Championship individual qualifier and second team All-American in the 10,000m run in the 2012 outdoor track season.

On the women’s side, cross country runners Rebecca Tracy and Jess Rydberg have also seen great success on the track.  Tracy has earned All-American honors on the outdoor track in the 1500m run and Rydberg has done likewise in the 10,000m run.

The Notre Dame cross country team holds its home meets right here on the Notre Dame Golf Course on Friday afternoons.  Although it may not have the same appeal as the football games do, watching an Irish cross country meet costs considerably less (it is free!) and it only takes about 20-30 minutes for a race to run its course (no pun intended).

Whether or not you really want to spend your Friday afternoon watching skinny runners racing loops around the golf course, it still may be worth your time to give a friendly nod to the next ND runner you see cruising around campus.  Notre Dame is certainly a place of great tradition, and that runner you see is putting in a lot of miles to uphold one of the oldest sporting traditions here under the dome.

Jake Kildoo is a sophomore philosophy major and member of the cross country and track teams himself. His distinctively long hair flows in the wind as he gracefully glides on air. Contact him at jkildoo@nd.edu