The 2018 Seven Sisters Cross Country Championships was bittersweet: it marked the end of a decades-long tradition, but star runner Grace Cowles ’21 became the last reigning champion of the conference.
Bryn Mawr hosted the final Seven Sisters Championships on Oct. 14, and the Wellesley Cross Country team took a five hour bus ride down to Pennsylvania for an overnight trip. The Seven Sisters Championships is much smaller than a typical cross country race. With only 93 runners, there is sense of camaraderie between the runners because they get the opportunity to mingle with peers from different teams at the banquet the night before the race.
On the flip side, with only 93 runners, the race is much more competitive because the odds of taking home the trophy is much greater. Although Cowles could feel the competitive energy at the starting line, she “did not expect to win” the race. In fact, Cowles had trouble processing that she had won the race and struggled with conflicting feelings of joy and guilt immediately afterwards. Although Cowles was in the lead pack throughout the race, she was in second place until the last 800m.“The girl in front of me tripped on a root and fell and I passed her,” recalled Cowles, “my coach made a weird face at me and I made a weird face back at him. Then I started sprinting. It happened so quickly that I didn’t even think about it — I just went for it.” Her win only started to sink in when the rest of her teammates started crossing the finish line after her.
Although happy with her personal achievements, Cowles’ win comes as a bittersweet ending for the cross country team. The team fell short of achieving their goal of a team victory at the Seven Sisters Championships and it is “disappointing” for Cowles that the team will not be able to try again next year.
Despite the fall, Cowles’ victory was well-earned. In preparation for the season, Cowles ran 40 miles a week while also doing neuroscience research and bussing tables during the summer. Now in season, Cowles averages around 43 miles a week, rotating between distance runs, speed workouts and Sunday morning 10-mile long runs. On top of running, Cowles also has strength and conditioning sessions in the weight room twice a week after practice. Her heavy schedule as a prospective neuroscience major and grueling training schedule, however, keeps her in check. “If I didn’t have a sport, everything would be a lot harder because when you have a set schedule you are much more productive with your time,” said Cowles, “Running also keeps me in a good mental state so I am able to focus.”
Her steady training and work ethic has paid off; Cowles has been clocking in collegiate and personal best times everytime she races. At the Roy Griak Championships, one of the largest races in the country, Cowles placed ninth in the Women’s Division III race. Reflecting on her growth from last season, she said “I definitely have a different attitude about running. I was new on the team and didn’t have a ton of confidence.” As a first-year last fall, Cowles felt that she was in her “adjustment phase,” constantly being exposed to new experiences both athletically and academically. This season feels a lot different for Cowles. “My season is definitely going much better than last year and the team this year is amazing. Everyone is super close, which is important because running isn’t just about performance, it’s also about making friendships that will last even after college.”
With just two more races left in the season, Cowles is optimistic about finishing her season off strong. The New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference Championship (NEWMACs) this year will be at Smith College — coincidentally, the same course that she ran last year for the Seven Sisters Championships. Although she knows the hilly course will be tough, Cowles is excited to race with the whole team one last time at NEWMACs before she leads a pack of seven runners at New England DIII Regionals.