Senior Shannon Fox doesn't fancy herself a leisurely runner when her Oberlin running career ends in the spring.
"I basically like to run to compete," she said. "I think if I can't compete, I'll be a couch potato."
Fox has competed just fine during her Oberlin running career. In the space of 19 months, she's racked up a total of nine conference championships in indoor and outdoor track as well as cross country. She speaks softly of her accomplishments though her standards are high.
Two weeks ago at the NCAC meet at Denison University, Fox became the second woman in the conference's 12-year history to repeat as cross country champion.
Saturday, she's running in the Great Lakes Regional meet at Otterbein College. There, she hopes to qualify for her third consecutive bid for the national cross country championships.
Last year, Fox finished 65th out of 185 runners at the national meet and as a sophomore, she came in 123rd.
In outdoor track, Fox has won the conference's 5 kilometer and 10 kilometer races two years in a row. Last year, she also won the 3 kilometer race. Indoors, Fox won the 3 kilometer and 5 kilometer championships as a sophomore.
Fox reflected on her Oberlin running career thus far last week. "I never thought I'd be able to make it [to Nationals] my sophomore year," she said. "This year is the first year I've really wanted to make it and so I feel more prepared. I'd like to make the top three [in Regionals]."
Despite her ambitions, a berth at the national meet is not a sure thing even for Fox. The top two teams out of 25 at the regional meet will run at Nationals as well as the three highest finishers not on those teams.
Still, senior Alex Dawe, a men's runner with aspirations for nationals, talks about how he'd like to join Fox at the national meet.
Oberlin's women finished fourth in the NCAC meet and are an extraordinarily longshot for securing one of the team places. That means Fox will need a very high regional finish.
And she has tough competition, including Kenyon seniors Gretchen Baker and Keri Schulte who took the two spots behind Fox at the conference meet.
Schulte was last year's regional champion and an all-American runner on the strength of her run at nationals. And she's one of few runners in the conference who has beaten Fox. "She's a phenomenal competitor," Schulte said Thursday.
Schulte will be looking for revenge to end a stellar career in which she was shut out at the NCAC championships. "If I had a choice of whether to win the conference or the region, I'd choose to win the region because it's a bigger race," she said.
Fox said, though, that her focus has always been on the conference race, which is also the Yeowomen's focus as a team. "I was probably more nervous for conference this year than I've ever been in the past because the competition was tough," she said. "But I feel more comfortable with the regionals and with the big meets in general than I have in the past."
This year, Fox has had a workout schedule slightly different from the rest of the team's. Before the conference meet, she did a bit more work and tapered later in order to help her delay her physical peak. A typical training day for Fox is more than a jog around campus - she tends to run 6 to 7 miles, and sometimes as many as 12 in addition to two or three weekly workouts in the weight room.
In cross country, those big meets, like the last few and those she is currently preparing for, mean a lot of runners - and that the customary order of familiar runners is upset. In bigger meets, such as the All-Ohio meet, Fox is apt to run further back in the pack and pick off runners at race's end. In smaller meets, she's more likely to set the pace over the entire 5 kilometers.
It's the spirit of the group, with every runner running the same distance at the same time that makes cross country Fox's favorite season. "In track everyone spreads out into their individual specialties," she said. "Somehow it doesn't mean as much."
It's not as if Fox hasn't done well on running in the ovals in track rather than on the grass courses in cross country - she's taken seven conference titles there.
Her coach, Tom Mulligan, said that Fox's titles and talent make her one of the best female athletes in conference history - and the best he's coached.
Fox often runs with the men's team - or alone far ahead of the other women, but she says it's being part of a team that keeps her going. And lack of a team is a reason she says she's not likely to continue running as much upon graduation - or at least not for awhile.
The cross country team for Fox, like for other members, is a social unit as well as a group of runners.
"All my friends are on the team. It's always been great," she said. When Fox talks about her college years, she's not talking about her classes or even her athletic accomplishments but rather the life of the cross country team; she lives in an off-campus house with some of her team members.
"I wouldn't say my focus is running," the politics major said. "But it is such a big aspect of my life."
For all her decoration, the slight Fox maintains that the team spirit is the reason she competes. She's seen as a role model on her close-knit squad.
"She's a really great motivator and a really great teammate," said first-year Rebecca Grossman. Grossman has been running just a few slots behind Fox all season and has pushed Fox in workouts, especially speed workouts.
It's endurance, not speed, that's propelled Fox. But she began running track as a freshman in high school in Palm Beach, Fla., to improve her sprinting speed. Back then, her first sport was softball, where she was a designated runner. It didn't take long before she was converted to a distance runner. During her senior year in high school, Fox finished sixth in the state cross country and second in the 2 mile race.
Despite a career of wins and the inspirational quotes often scrawled on her arms with markers, Fox's thoughts during races are a little more human, even couch-potatoish: "A lot of races, I just think of giving up and finishing."
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 8; November 8, 1996
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