Club team continues to expand, strives to compete

By Jonah Pérez, Staff Writer

The Illinois cross country club team represents the University at National Intercollegiate Running Club Association competitions and occasionally races at NCAA competitions, too.

The club team was originally created to help serious runners train to try out for Illinois’ Division I team, but it’s evolved into an opportunity for runners who are not quite varsity-caliber to continue intercollegiate running.

Every day at 4:15 p.m., a group meets at the Armory for team training. Members begin congregating around 4 p.m., and after a few minutes of announcements, the team takes off on its run for the day. Just like any other collegiate cross country team, the group takes part in different types of runs throughout the week.

“The levels vary; three days a week it will be a normal run that will go for ‘x’ number of miles,” said Muneeb Ansari, club president. “Two days a week we’ll do pretty strenuous workouts; on Sunday mornings at 8 a.m., we’ll have long runs which can range anywhere from nine to 16 miles.”

On Oct. 20, the team hosted the NIRCA Cross Country Great Plains Regional in Urbana. The regional event is a series of races for club teams leading up to the NIRCA Cross Country National Championship.

The club has only hosted the Great Plains Regional a few times, but it’s always something it’s proud of.

“We’re one of the older, more serious and larger clubs, so I think it’s a testament to how much we believe in NIRCA’s mission,” Ansari said. “We’re going to have 80 runners on (Oct. 20), the most we’ve ever had at this race, so it says a lot about how professional we are that we can work with the facilities managers, we can organize this, we can get together volunteers, and I don’t think every club can say that.”

Ansari said the club is in a weird position – it occasionally competes on the same level as a Division III team but remains a club team. 

The team’s position causes team members to go out of their way to showcase their “seriousness and professionalism” because not every meet in which the club participates awards a team score. But the NIRCA Cross Country National Championships are different. In order to move on, teams have to place in the top seven. This past weekend, the team finished first out of eight on the men’s side and first out of seven on the women’s side.

The regular season starts at the beginning of the school year and runs until the NIRCA Cross Country National Championships, usually in early November. This season began Aug. 27  and will continue until Nov. 10. 

While both the men’s and women’s teams had standout performances at regionals, the ultimate goal of the club is more than success on the course — it’s about self-improvement, according to Ansari.

“People should join because it’s fair,” Ansari said. “You can’t cheat your way out of a race. If you put in the work, you will get results. There are a million and one success stories that can tell you, from people on the team, that they put in the miles and put in the summer and now here they are, one of our best runners. It’s hard to find that in many places.”

Senior Noel Brindise agrees. She joined for reasons that extend beyond running.

“Partially for the running and (partially) for the social aspect,” Brindise said. “We are a very social team; I’m a senior and a lot of my friends come from this club because everybody is very accepting.”

After the season ends, however, members will continue training and begin running indoors as part of the Illinois track club. Much like the University’s official programs, the club team provides runners like Ansari and Brindise a year-long opportunity to compete, but it also provides a place to bond over a common interest.

“They want to see you improve and be happy. They want what’s best for you,” Brindise said. “It’s not cutthroat at all; it’s a good attitude and it offers a whole range of opportunities, whether you’re looking to just keep running or if you want to competitively race.”

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