By any measure, the McMaster cross-country team had a good outdoor season, consistently placing in the top 10 of the tournaments they attended. They ultimately capped off their season with a fourth-place finish for the men and a seventh-place finish for the women at the U Sports national championship in Victoria, British Columbia. The team now looks to build on that earlier success this coming winter term.
Cross-country is a unique sport in many ways as it toes the line between a team sport and individual competition. In addition to this, there is essentially no offseason. When other sports pack it in and head indoors ahead of worse weather, cross-country athletes head indoors to continue to compete.
This indoor track season began in December with the Bob Vigars Season Opener hosted by Western University, where Mac sent a group of their athletes who all contributed to the Marauders’ trophy case. While the men swept the podium in the 3000m race, the women’s side of the track was led by fourth-year Nursing student Erin Mawhinney who captured gold in the women’s 3000m race.
“It was cool,” said Mawhinney. “I haven’t won a university race before so that was different. A couple of us do that race coming just out of cross-country season just to see what kind of track fitness we have coming from cross-country, a sort of base for the rest of the season.”
In the new year, the Marauders headed to Windsor for the Can Am Classic on Jan. 13, where Mawhinney placed fourth in the women’s 1500m race. Sergio Raez Villanueva’s placed first in the men’s 1500m race as the top-performing Marauder over the weekend.
Mawhinney notes that in terms of training not much changes between seasons, although the team does a lot more speed-oriented workouts. One big difference is in the social aspects of the sport during meets.
“We have a lot more time together with the team at meets,” Mawhinney said. “Instead of in cross-country where there is just one girls event and one boys event, track meets sometime span over two days and so you get to spend those two days with the team. It is a lot more team time, which is fun.”
Consistency breeds success and every athlete has their own set of pre-game rituals and habits that help them attack their day at the best of their ability. Mawhinney, who has been running track since she was 10 years old, recognizes that the actions leading up to a race are just as important as the race itself.
After packing her bag the night before a meet, Mawhinney will spend time with friends or teammates to her take her mind off of the impending competition and stave off nerves before a race, which have lessened over her tenure.
“I think being in fourth year, I don’t get as anxious or worked up before races anymore,” said Mawhinney. “It was a bigger problem for me in first and second year, but you learn how to just stay calm before the race and have more fun with it. I try not to think too much about the race until I’m warming up.”
When it comes to game day, music plays a key part for Mawhinney as for many other athletes.
“I listen to music on my warm-up jog,” explained Mawhinney. “I usually listen to the Tragically Hip on my warm up, and there’s a sprinkle of One Direction in there as well. Usually One Direction closer to the race; they’re a pretty happy bunch.”
After the headphones come off, Mawhinney tries to keep things light on the track and visualize the race that lays ahead of her. In order to stave off any pre-race nerves, Mawhinney likes to keep it loose, cracking jokes with her teammates and even her competition.
“I picture the race ahead of time and keep it light and humorous around the track level when we’re warming up because it just makes it way more fun,” Mawhinney added. “I find I race the best when I’m not nervous and some of my worst races have been when I’m just too nervous before. Racing when you’re really nervous before makes you get lactic faster and it is not pleasant. My best races for sure have been when I’m laid back.”
“I try to keep it pretty causal with the other girls that are racing, keep it pretty humorous and funny. Because it is a kind of funny thing to all congregate and put yourself through so much pain.”
Erin Mawhinney, Cross-country
As she looks ahead to her final year as a Marauder, Mawhinney has mixed feelings.
“It’s really good incentive to give training my all,” said Mawhinney. “I’m so much more used to the training program here now. I go to our strength and conditioning much more frequently than I did in first and second year. So having it be my last year is like an incentive to train really hard since this is sort of it, but it’s also sad because the team is so fun and it will be hard to find another environment that is as fun as them when I’m not here.”
Although it will not be the same, Mawhinney hopes to pursue running following her time as a student-athlete. A lot of Mac alumni tend to stick around the area and will sometimes still practice alongside current members of the team, so she hopes that she will be able to do that as well.
Dedicated and talented runners make up the McMaster cross-country program and are a significant reason why they can maintain their winning groove into the new year. While we maybe stuck in the midst of a brutally cold winter, the track season is only heating up.