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NCAA XC Champs to feature hardest course in years, set to be ‘a bloodbath’

The long-awaited NCAA Cross-Country Championships are finally here, and the course in Oklahoma is brutal

Justyn Knight Photo by: Michael Scott/Syracuse Athletics

Running fans have waited a long time for the NCAA Cross-Country Championships, as the event, which normally takes place in November, was rescheduled for March 15 due to concerns around COVID-19. The race was already hyped up enough simply due to the extended wait following its postponement, but reports from coaches in Stillwater, Okla., where the event is being held on Monday, say the course is the hardest the NCAA has seen in years, and the race could be “a bloodbath.”

2010 NCAA Cross Country Championships, Terre Haute, Ind. Photo: Mike Scott.

As reported on letsrun.com, a number of coaches have said the course — which was laid out by championship hosts Oklahoma State University — is the hardest NCAA cross-country course in recent history. As LetsRun points out, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean much, as the NCAA Championships have only been run on three different courses in the previous 16 years: Louisville, Ky., Madison, Wis., and Terre Haute, Ind. 

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None of these courses are particularly difficult, and while they all had some hills, none compare to what Stillwater has in store for runners. 

“In terms of a national championship course, it’s the hardest that I’ve seen in 21 years [of coaching],” said Ed Eyestone, head coach of BYU. Oklahoma State has published maps of the men’s 10K and women’s 6K courses, but no elevation charts. Fortunately, the University of Missouri’s Tom George posted the route on Strava after a race on the same course in 2019. 

“Well that was pretty lit,” he wrote on Strava. George finished second at that 2019 race, making it through the brutal and hilly course in 30:49. As described on LetsRun, the race starts with a long and straight line for about 800m before coming to a fork. One way takes runners to a flat one-mile loop that the men run twice (the women don’t get the luxury of this flat section) and the other direction leads into the woods, where the race gets hilly. 

Charlotte Prouse
Photo: Mike Mulcahy/University of New Mexico.

This part of the course has no flats, and if runners aren’t running up a hill, they’re trucking down one. None of the hills are particularly long, but the constant climbing and descending will shred runners’ legs. The race ends with a 600m climb that leads into a quick downhill ahead of the finish line. 

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“Probably there’s more elevation change on our course than any other course I’ve been a part of at the NCAA Championship level,” Dave Smith, head coach of Oklahoma State, told LetsRun. “So I think that part is interesting and challenging. It presents opportunity for strategy that might not be as prevalent on some other courses. So I’m excited about that.”

The event, which is sure to be a suffer-fest for everyone involved, will be broadcast on ESPNU and the ESPN App on Monday, with action starting at 12:30 p.m. ET.