To distance runners, the University of Oregon's Hayward Field track is what Madison Square Garden is to basketball players. It's the mecca of the sport, the place where runners dream of lining up in the same spot where Steve Prefontaine made himself a legend.
To Syracuse Orange standouts Margo Malone and Shaylyn Tuite, Hayward Field is indeed a special place, but the duo is focused more on the task in front of them- taking home All-America honors. Margo and Shalyn are two of the seven Orange track and field athletes who qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track Championships, which will be contested this week.
The two women will compete together in the 10,000m on Thursday evening, marking only the 3rd-time in school history that Syracuse sends two women's distance runners to the NCAA outdoor meet. When I spoke with them this week, both recognize the historical significance of their performances, but they admit that for now the focus is completely on the race ahead. Even with that focus race, both women admit excitement about competing on the legendary track. "It’s neat being able to go out there, and not just race, but also just be a part of it, do a workout there." said Tuite.
This is Malone's 3rd-straight NCAA Outdoor appearance, which ties her with former SU standouts Lauren Penney and Sarah Pagano. Malone's 1st trip to Eugene was with Pagano, and Malone credits her with providing guidance to handling all that comes with competing against the best of the best. This race will cap her outstanding career, and she wants to end it on a high note after what she described as "a rocky year", and there is no better place to do it than Eugene, "It's definitely a magical place" she said.
Tuite, has delivered an outstanding track season and emerged on the national level. This is her 1st NCAA Track Championship appearance, and Tuite said she will look to her teammate before and during the race for guidance.
Even though she's experienced at the NCAA meet, Malone agreed that having a teammate in the same race benefits her as well. "I think it’s definitely a feeling of comfort that I know what the track is like and I’ve been there before, but every year is a new experience. Similar to two years ago when Sarah Pagano was there, it’s just so comforting to have a teammate in the race, so I’m most excited about that."
Both runners agreed that while their individual race strategies might differ, it's helpful to have a familiar face in the field of 24 runners. Malone usually starts off ahead of Tuite, but she admitted that "...at the end if I’m struggling, I can see Shay and it’s comforting to see another orange jersey and know we can work together."
Tuite said her focus is to be conservative at the start in order to save for a strong kick at the end, but she said she'll look to Malone in the middle of the race, "It’s good to keep each other in sight and work together in the middle. I rely on my kick a lot, so my strategy is always going to be more patient in the beginning, and have a kick at the end."
Running 10k on the track is a mentally and physically draining task. 25 laps against the best distance runners in the country could cause a lot of anxiety, but both Malone and Tuite credit the Syracuse coaches-Chris Fox and Brien Bell, and each other, for their preparation for the event. I asked them if it was tough to be running their 3rd 10K in the last month, but both were quick to talk about their unwavering confidence in the training and racing plans that the staff has prepared.
The ACC and NCAA Regional races were run under control, so Tuite believes that they have more left for this week's race. Malone added that the mental approach is just as important as the physical training, "Coach Bell calls the 10k a race of attrition, so you have to stay calm."
Both Malone and Tuite head into the NCAA Championships focused on running smart, but being aware of their competitors as they look to secure a top 8 finish and earn the First Team All-America honors they seek. If they accomplish the feat, Malone will become the first Syracuse women's distance runner to earn two First Team All-America honors in outdoor track. No matter what results come from Thursday's race, the Cuse duo will savor the experience together, something Malone put in perspective during our talk
You can watch the NCAA meet on the ESPN Networks this week, and stay tuned to Nunes Magician for more coverage.