What exactly happened at the 2006 N.E.S.C.A.C. cross-country championships?
LØPE MAGAZINE – Issue No. 022, May 2020
By Liam Boylan-Pett
On the morning of October 27, 2006, Abby Samuelson sat on the Bates College cross-country team’s bus, looked out the window at the wind and rain thrashing Harkness Memorial State Park, and laughed. On a clear day, one could glance out across the Atlantic Ocean from the Waterford, Connecticut, park to see Fishers Island. On this day, Samuelson could barely see the ground twenty feet ahead. She and her teammates were supposed to run the New England Small College Athletic Conference Championships, but rumors swirled that football games and other sporting events were being cancelled throughout New England that day. It was too windy to set up the team’s tent. It was too rainy to stand outside for more than a minute or two. It was too muddy to make one’s way to the park’s public restrooms. But it was cross-country, Samuelson thought. The only thing she could do was laugh.
Well, that and race.
Samuelson, a first-year running her first N.E.S.C.A.C. Championship race, bundled up and ran a shortened warm-up with her teammates. She rushed back onto the bus to change into her dry racing attire. She tied her spikes tight and wrapped athletic tape around her shoes and ankles to cinch them even tighter. Then, she raced. The wind smacked her face. Mud flew all around her. She slogged through puddles that went up to her hips. Her mom, Joan Benoit Samuelson, one of the greatest distance runners of all time, ran from spot to spot on the course cheering her on, but that was not a worry for Samuelson. She finished and got back onto the bus as soon as possible. Her and her teammates threw their gear into plastic bags and changed into whatever dry pieces of clothing they had left. If there was a facility for showers, the Bates runners did not find it. Instead, they did their best to stay dry until it was time to go, which took some time given the junior varsity and alumni races after the women’s competition.
It was miserable. But finally, the bus roared to a start and the team began the four-hour trip back up to their Lewiston, Maine, campus. Samuelson thought about how it was one of the craziest races she had ever been a part of—one that she would always remember.
Fourteen years later, Samuelson’s hunch proved true. She certainly remembers the race. The memory, however, is about more than slogging through the mud. For Samuelson and everyone else who ran the 2006 N.E.S.C.A.C. Cross-Country Championship, they remember the aftermath, too.
Samuelson remembers the end of the bus ride back to campus on that October day in 2006. She remembers the Bates cross-country team was done complaining and laughing about how awful the race was. She remembers they were done hyping up that night’s post-conference Halloween party. She remembers that, mostly, they all looked forward to getting back to campus for a hot shower.
Samuelson swears she remembers one more thing from the end of the bus ride, too. A few of her teammates, she says, complained about being itchy.
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