The start of a cross country race is intimidating.
Over 100 runners stare down a difficult course alongside their competitors, ready to fight for every stride. It takes a special type of athlete to rise to the challenge, and that athlete is Emily Nowak.
A fourth-year senior, Nowak has started her season strong, putting up the seventh fastest time overall and the second fastest by a Canadian at the University of Buffalo Stampede, a preseason invitational held in New York.
The fastest time by a female Marauder, her performance helped propel the women’s team over the Western Mustangs to a third place finish, a huge victory after narrowly missing the podium in the same event last year.
“It was a good confidence boost for everyone,” said Nowak. “It’s always tough going into the first race of the season because you are trying to figure out what shape you’re in, but everyone was excited for it. I’m happy with [my time]. It’s a good starting point.”
More than just a strong starter, Nowak has found herself on the podium since high school. In her senior year, she had the fastest time in all of Peel region in both the 1,500m and 3,000m events, as well as the second fastest time in the women’s 5k final.
When university teams came calling, Western was a strong contender, but Nowak chose maroon and hasn’t looked back.
“My high school coach, who coached me through track and cross country, she went to Mac and ran for them. It was between Western and Mac, and she [knew] I would love the coaches, and really fit with the program here.”
Since her arrival, Nowak has trained tirelessly the last four years to rise from Mac’s fourth fastest time at the Ontario University Athletics championship in her rookie year to first at this season’s opening meet.
Nowak and her teammates hit the pavement daily on their own or for team workouts that include interval training, hill sets, and two or three kilometre distances repeatedly.
They also mix in strength work, lifting weights throughout the week and saving the weekend for their “long runs,” which for Emily can range from 15 to 20 km. Even on recovery days, she is running anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes.
“We run everyday, that’s the basis of it.”
Just as impressive, Nowak has maintained an excellent grade-point average in the Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization program, making the the Dean’s list every year. She also finds the time for hobbies, including singing, cooking, and snowboarding depending on the day.
“Everyone on our team, myself included, is good with time management. We know when we have to get stuff done.”
Coming off a bronze medal finish last year at the OUA Cross Country Championship, and a surprise bronze with the woman’s 4x800m relay team at the OUA Indoor Track Championship last year, the expectations this season are high.
“Everyone in their fourth year, if you talk to any athlete, they want their fourth or fifth year to be their best. I put a lot of expectations on myself, but I also want to have fun with it.”
“In the end, if I can finish both championship [races] knowing that I gave it my all, knowing I couldn’t run another step, I’ll be happy.”
As for the start of a race? It’s her favourite part.