Men’s cross country is accustomed to being chased. For three straight years, the Tigers have won the Ivy League Heptagonal championships. This year, with Princeton receiving a Top-10 national ranking early in the season, the pressure is on to capture a fourth consecutive Heps title Nov. 2 at the West Windsor Fields.
“It’s a lot harder to defend a title than it is to win,” said second-year coach Jason Vigilante. Added co-captain Alejandro Arroyo Yamin ’14: “We have a target on our backs.”
Returning from last year are the team’s top three runners, all seniors: co-captain Chris Bendtsen, the 2012 Heps champion; Arroyo Yamin, the Heps runner-up; and Tyler Udland. Bendtsen, a runner with speed in his genes (both parents, half a dozen aunts and uncles, and his sister all have run competitively), finished 43rd at the NCAAs last year, just three spots shy of All-America honors.
Bendtsen’s formula for cracking the top 40 this year is simple but disciplined: restrict meals to the essentials (“lots of protein, lots of vegetables”), get enough sleep (eight to 10 hours a night), and stay ahead of class assignments. “To get All-America this year, it’s all about consistency,” he said.
As is their custom, the seniors rented a house in Boulder, Colo., for the summer, running every day until their weekly mileage had doubled. Returning to campus, team members traced well-worn routes — “Bean Fields,” “Bud’s Run,” “Pretty Brook,” and others first etched by Tigers decades ago — as they logged more than 100 miles a week preseason, and about 75 thereafter. On a typical day, the team spends three to four hours running, stretching, and lifting, Arroyo Yamin said, with days off only “now and then.” A runner can wear through three pairs of shoes in one season.
While both Bendtsen and Arroyo Yamin have set their personal sights on securing All-America status, they said the team’s performance comes first, with a goal of improving on their 11th-place NCAA finish last year — their best ever.
Until then, “everything is predicated on winning the Heps title,” said Vigilante. “That’s goal No. 1.” The biggest challenge may be holding off Columbia, the only other Ivy school ranked in the Top 20 preseason. The coach sees little margin for error: “You do it right, or wait till next year.”