Sports writer runs infamous cross country workout on Sweet Road

first_imgMy breathing sounded like someone driving with a flat tire.The ground had leveled out almost five miles through the 6.25-mile Sweet Road route that the Syracuse men’s and women’s cross-country teams run on hard days, and my “run” had reduced to some motion between “jog” and “plod.” The Syracuse coaching staff’s belief in Sweet Road as a training ground is so strong that, when the men’s team won the national championship in 2015, the rings were engraved with “SWEET ROAD” just below the runner’s name.For all its hype, Sweet Road looks pretty ordinary. There are dense trees and then green pastures and then dense trees again. Low-slung ranches and grain silos dotted the countryside. One farm had a welcoming sign out front: “Enjoy our deck & animals!” You could cut the 36 square miles surrounding SU’s stake in Sweet Road, paste it somewhere in New England and someone would, unphased, build a stone wall around it.I arrived at 7:04 one morning to run the same route that No. 3 Syracuse had a few days earlier. I wanted to find out what exactly about this road so appealed to one of the NCAA’s best teams that they never went anywhere else for hard days.Justyn Knight, Syracuse’s top runner, once told me that he eats a peanut-butter bagel a few hours before a race, but I remembered that advice too late. I scarfed one down on the way out the door and hoped for the best. This, I would think later, was a misstep comparable to Michael Scott from The Office “carbo-loading” minutes before a 5K by eating a large tin of fettuccine alfredo.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textWith the car parked on one of the wide shoulders that makes Syracuse coaches love the road, I trudged up the first hill toward the telephone post that served as the starting line. In my first time here, I had tried to scout out the road’s toughest stretches. The rapid succession of hills close to Mile 3. Heartbreak Hill was self-explanatory. SU head coach Chris Fox said the worst part was the first 10 to 15 minutes. It didn’t occur to me until I started running that he meant “10 to 15 minutes” as someone who was running somewhere near a 5:20 mile.I was not doing that.The first half-hour was grating, but then the course levelled off and it was mostly rolling hills for a little more than a mile. Published on September 19, 2017 at 12:04 am Then, at about three-and-a-half miles, I saw Heartbreak Hill. Even in the van a few days before, just driving up the incline made me second-guess my decision to run because I thought that this part might hurt. This was the part, one runner said, that he always dreaded.The worst part was just looking at the hill for about a half-mile and knowing that, pretty soon, you’d have to run up it. There was an imperative feeling to not do it. A Ford F-150 was crossing at an intersection right before the hill, so I took this brief break and then took off sprinting. No idea why. I just did.I stopped sprinting about a quarter of the way up the hill and, as I ascended, I could only taste peanut butter. The further I ran, the more tired I became. I don’t know what I expected, but while my chest felt cold and my breath came in ragged spurts, I wasn’t profoundly more tired than any other time I’d gone running. Then again, I wasn’t running as fast as they had been. I didn’t have a coach tracking each second. Maybe expectation had overtaken whatever reality could have been. I still tasted peanut butter.Almost at the top of Heartbreak Hill, a trucker barreled by. Looking back, I swear he flashed me a thumbs up, which at the time made me feel better, but upon further thought: How bad does someone have to look for a stranger to give the thumbs up signal to a person seemingly doing a leisure activity?The view from the top of Heartbreak Hill was a beautiful, green panorama. It reminded me of my high school basketball coach, who always said our gym had the best tasting water, which wasn’t true but at times seemed like it.After making it through the worst, I shifted down a gear for the rest of the course. It was then I realized that, while I wanted to understand why exactly this road functioned so well in training, ego was also a propeller. I wanted to prove to myself, to anyone else, that I could do the training.After turning left onto Academy Street, I made my way toward Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, where SU always met up after their runs. At this moment, I realized I had been so intent on running Sweet Road that I had forgotten this run was unlike every other one I had taken in my life. This run wasn’t a loop.I was now approximately 6.25 miles away from my car in a rural area I did not know and my mouth was dry and my calves burned. So, I stuck my thumb out and started walking north on Sweet Road.Sam Fortier is the sports editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. You can reach him at [email protected] and @Sam4TR. Commentscenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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