Feb. 20, 2017
By Rachel DaDamio
It's 8 a.m. Or, more specifically, 8:08 a.m. Allowing myself to hit the `snooze' button once, I respond to my blaring alarm and groggily climb down from the top bunk. I grab some yogurt and a piece of fruit from the fridge, put a coat over my pajamas and sneak quietly out of my room, trying not to wake my sleeping roommate. The bike ride to the Joyce Center is lonely. Usually, students and faculty fill the campus sidewalks, and biking requires weaving through crowds -- not on a Sunday morning. With the exception of my teammates also making their way to the JACC, I see no one.
Sunday, a day traditionally marked by sleeping in and completing homework, is my favorite day of the week. And it's not just me; Sundays are a unique day for the track and cross country team, one that we look forward to and savor throughout the remainder of the week.
Usually, I am one of the first to enter the locker room. As each teammate arrives -- some sleepily holding coffee, others softly humming the fight song (reminiscing from the football game the day before) -- the locker room is filled with the familiar restlessness that comes with planning for a run. Am I wearing the right apparel (a difficult but important question given the unpredictable weather of South Bend, Indiana)? Did I remember to bring water? We mill around the locker room, looking for shoes, watches, car keys and socks to complete our preparation. Then, we meet briefly with associate head coach Matt Sparks outside the locker room, pile into teammates' cars, and make the 20-minute drive to Bertrand Road in Michigan for practice. Bertrand road is the major road on our long run route. Characterized by hills and soft surfaces, it is the ideal setting for our Sunday run.
Sunday, in the world of distance running, is the day of the long run. Since I started track at Derby Middle School, my Sunday has consistently involved a long run. At 12 years old, my long run was a very slow, four-mile loop with my dad before church. During high school, my long run grew from six miles my freshmen year to 11 by the end of my senior year. As I gained age and experience, my long run lengthened. Now, my long run at Notre Dame is a 12-mile "out-and-back": six miles out and six miles back on the hilly dirt roads of Michigan, sometimes involving a tempo portion (a few miles at a faster pace). During cross country and outdoor track season, when the dirt roads aren't covered with snow, we run at Bertrand. During the winter, the long run continues closer to home -- sometimes with 60 laps around our 320 meter indoor track.
Although my long run has tripled in length, it's always been there. Serving as a way to mark my progress, the long run has -- on good days -- been evidence of my growth as a runner. On bad days, it has reminded me of my room for improvement.
Like my bike ride to the JACC, my long run was typically lonely before I came to Notre Dame. In middle school and high school, I was lucky to have one friend accompany me; however, when I climb the hills at Bertrand, I am never alone. Usually we run in groups of four to six girls (but have as many as 12 on some days). Sometimes we laugh, recounting stories from the earlier part of the weekend or imagining which teammate would win a hypothetical Hunger Games. Sometimes we discuss more serious topics -- our dreams, relationships, goals and struggles. Other times, we don't talk at all.
The company is what makes the long run my favorite. Reaching the top of an intimidating hill with your teammates by your side, each one a little out of breath, our strides syncing with one another -- it's a moment that will never get old. On warmups before races, when the anxious energy is especially palpable, someone inevitably will break the silence, referring to a big hill on the course.
"It's not as bad as Bertrand. We can do it."
Nervous laughter fills the air, and collectively, we remember the Sunday long run. Whoever spoke was right: the hill on the course pales in comparison to "the 10K hill" on Bertrand. What we will face on that cross country course or on that track is just another hill, and we will approach it the same as we do Sunday after Sunday -- together.
For more, check out the entire Into Focus series here.
Irish sophomore Rachel DaDamio runs cross country and competes as a distance runner with the women's track and field team. The Notre Dame track and field program hosts the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships from February 23-25 at Loftus Sports Center.