Boyle’s improvement has helped lead women’s cross country to nationals

The Illinois women’s cross country team can thank Northwestern for one thing: senior Elizabeth Boyle.

After spending one semester at Northwestern as a journalism major and running for its cross country team, Boyle discovered that the school just wasn’t for her and transferred to Illinois, where she decided to take her chances at running again.

Boyle joined the team in her sophomore year and has slowly moved up the pecking order to emerge as one of the Illini’s top four runners.

Illinois boasts a strong front pack this season, with four runners named All-Big Ten and All-Region in the last two meets. Boyle has mostly finished third for the Illini this season, and her impact has helped the Illini place second at both the Big Ten Championship and NCAA Regionals.

But as a walk-on, Boyle didn’t start her athletic career at Illinois with high expectations.

Though she had experience competing at the collegiate level, adjusting to a new program took time.

“It was definitely difficult at first just getting used to a new team, new coaches, new way of practicing,” Boyle said. “(It was) just … a higher level of competition here. It took me awhile to figure out how things worked and things slowly came around.”

Boyle’s career at Illinois started with a bang as the Illini took sixth at nationals that year, which was the second-highest finish in the program’s history. Facing tough competition on the team, she found herself finishing in the back and running unattached throughout most of her first season.

“I actually wish we could get her first season back,” cross country coach Jeremy Rasmussen said. “She ran our first home meet (in 2007) … She was pretty far back in our group and so she actually ended up running unattached at the Illini Intercollegiate meet because we could only run so many people there.

“Now, to know where she is at now, I kind of wish we could go back … but obviously what’s done is done.”

Boyle began to competing in the Illini’s major races last fall and finished mostly in the fifth spot. But it was actually last spring during track season when her improvements really started to show.

“That (2008) cross country season, she just wasn’t running to her potential at all, and then she got to track and saw these huge improvements,” said senior Ashley Thompson, who is also Boyle’s roommate. “Then she got to the summer, trained really hard and got back and was great cross country runner … she’s improved a lot.”

But the jump Boyle made from the back to the front of the pack has been a result of taking little steps.

“I wish there was one secret thing that made a difference, but I think it was really just a combination of doing all the little things: getting enough sleep, eating right, getting in the training room,” Boyle said. “If you do all those little things, they allow you to train harder, work out, run more mileages, and ultimately are what makes you race faster.”

Rasmussen believes that Boyle’s improvements have been a result of a gradual understanding of the team’s goal and her potential after gaining more racing experience, even if she wasn’t running with the top group.

“She’s been able to continue to get better and better and continue to believe in the things that we do, and not only that, but really just believe in herself,” Rasmussen said. “She learned that she can be good. She can be a great runner, and I think that that’s the biggest assets she’s added throughout her years.”

Now, Boyle’s best cross country season comes in her last season, and she will be crucial when Illinois looks for a top-10 finish at Monday’s NCAA National Championships. This season, Boyle has consistently finished in the top 20 at meets. The jump she has made from racing in the back of the pack to the front as one of the team’s top runners highlights her strides of improvements.

“I loved my experience with the team at Northwestern, so I figured why not, give it a shot, what’s the worst that could happen?” Boyle said about why she decided to join the team (at Illinois). “(It was) probably one of the best decisions that I’ve made.”