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Unique meet opens cross country season

Ekiden race breaks with tradition

The Shaker boys cross country team executes the sash exchange during last Saturday’s Ekiden meet in Niskayuna. The relay race consists of teams of three runners tackling a 1.5-mile loop.

The Shaker boys cross country team executes the sash exchange during last Saturday’s Ekiden meet in Niskayuna. The relay race consists of teams of three runners tackling a 1.5-mile loop. Photo by Rob Jonas.

— For all the different courses cross country runners compete on during the season, the object is always the same: run approximately three miles through the woods and finish with the best time possible to help your team.

Niskayuna’s annual Ekiden Meet adds a unique twist. Instead of running as individuals with a common goal, competittors are divided into three-man relay teams and given sashes to hand off to each other after completing a 1.5-mile loop.

Niskayuna cross country coach Jason DeRocco came up with the idea four years ago as a way to break the monotony of training his runners for the season.

“It’s hard to try to get kids to like running, so I thought if we could break it down a bit into shorter distances, maybe we could get them to like it more,” said DeRocco.

Only a handful of teams took part in last Saturday’s race, but one of them was the nationally-ranked Shaker boys team.

“It’s low key, and it’s a good start for the kids,” said Shaker coach Ed Springstead. “Plus, it gives the younger kids a chance to see what it’s all about.”

“It’s a great race because it’s half the distance [of a regular cross country race],” said Colonie boys coach Tom Greene. “The freshmen only run 1,000 meters, and the varsity kids only run a mile and a half.”

Teams had different methods of selecting their relay groups. The Colonie girls team used a democratic method.

“The girls just drew names out of a hat, rather than pick the top three girls,” said Greene.

DeRocco said he modeled the Ekiden race after similar events in foreign countries.

“In Asia and in Europe, they have races like this that go across the country, and they use sashes like the [American] Pony Express,” said DeRocco.

Shaker dominated the boys varsity division. The Blue Bison had seven of the top eight relay teams led by the winning trio of Adam Schwenzfeier, Jackson Ciavardoni and Rob Smith. The Colonie team of Matt Luizi, Jordan Johnson and Jon Holmes broke up the Shaker pack by placing third.

Holy Names had two of the top three girls varsity relay teams, with Niska-yuna’s A team placing second. Colonie’s C team finished fourth.

Shaker hosts its own invitational Saturday.

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