As the lone senior on the Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons cross country team — girls’ or boys’ — Meaghan Kienzle is especially appreciative of her opportunity to run this fall, no matter how unique the circumstances.
“A partial season is better than no season,” Kienzle said Saturday after wrapping up a four-team Western Athletic Conference meet that also included Canajoharie/Fort Plain, Berne-Knox-Westerlo/Middleburgh and OESJ.
For Kienzle, the cross country season isn’t about chasing championships, but rather pushing herself to perform her best.
And the chance to go out and do that is worth the chaos and confusion brought on by the strange formats that have been adopted to accommodate safe, socially distanced meets.
“It’s so nice to have a season,” Kienzle said. “Yeah, it’s rough, but I’m so glad we were able to get a season.”
Every league across Section II that is sponsoring cross country this fall has come up with its own paradigm for holding meets.
The Suburban Council and Foothills Council are both holding meets where opposing teams never cross paths during the event, with minor variations in starting procedures.
In the WAC, runners from each team at a meet do start together, but in smaller groups. Moving from fastest to slowest projected times, each team sends one runner to the start line — boys first, then girls — with groups heading off at one-minute intervals.
While it can lead to a bit of confusion — cobbling together the final times and team scores at Saturday’s meet took nearly twice as long as the meet itself — Kienzle said she’s appreciative of the opportunity to get some kind of gauge of her performance against runners from other teams.
“It’s good that you start with a person from each team,” she said, “so you still get an aspect [of competition] while being COVID-safe.”
With so many runners at different spots on the course, it can be difficult to keep up a pacing strategy.
“It’s very confusing,” Kienzle said. “It’s hard to compare and say, ‘Oh, did I run faster this race or the last race?’ because you don’t have people around you.”
The spaced-out nature of the meet means that thinking about team results while out on the course isn’t easy.
“It’s more about the personal times,” Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons coach Blair Hilton said.
Kienzle finished 11th in Saturday’s race, posting the second-fastest time for a Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons runner.
For her, it’s less about paying attention to what the stopwatch says and more about willing herself through a race.
“You’ve got to pace yourself and make sure you’re still going as fast as you can,” Kienzle said.