Senior Lucy Cheadle running away from the competition
For senior Lucy Cheadle of the Washington University women’s cross-country team, this calendar year has been one filled with an NCAA title, conference records and Division I aspirations as she nears her last cross-country race for the Red and Green.
But ask Cheadle, and it’s been a season of fun and steady improvement that has so far culminated in a record third consecutive University Athletic Association individual title at this past weekend’s championships in Forest Park.
The UAA victory, which included the fastest time in conference history (20:31.60 in the 6-kilometer race), came just a few months after Cheadle won a Division III national title in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase for the track-and-field team. Succeeding at the highest levels this calendar year has hiked Cheadle’s self-assurance.
“Definitely winning nationals was a breakthrough mentally. I had never won nationally before,” Cheadle said. “In high school I had never won big races, and…I didn’t quite have the feeling that I could do it, and now it’s there.”
A chemical engineer with a special interest in environmental engineering, Cheadle efficiently balances her time between academics and her continuous training. She has been known to study during recovery ice baths and formed a ritual her first few years of working on her math homework in the hour before a race.
“I liked the distraction. I would only do math because I like the confidence boost of doing a problem and getting it right. It would help me feel good before the race,” Cheadle said.
The most important preparation before the race, however, is the training in which Cheadle engages throughout the season. Her personalized training regimen emphasizes injury prevention through cross-training and core work rather than simply focusing on mileage.
“If I get hurt, I’m not going to be able to race, period. I got hurt my sophomore year, so we said the No. 1 priority is just being able to run,” she said. “I used to run 60 to 65 miles a week sophomore year, and so now I am still able to get a lot of aerobic benefits from ellipticalling instead of running, so I do that probably 200 minutes a week cross-training instead of running.”
Cheadle’s training also includes 40 miles per week of standard running as well as weight work designed by new assistant coach Danny Feldman, who, according to Cheadle, has been helpful in the weight room and designs “crazy workouts.”
Head coach Jeff Stiles has spent four years coaching Cheadle both in cross-country in the fall and track in the spring. Stiles commended Cheadle’s calmness in training and before races, but he stressed that his role now is simply to sit back and let Cheadle take control of her own training.
“She’s twice the athlete she was last year when she left campus in May—that’s how good she is right now. All I can do is screw her up. She’s got it figured out. My job is to get out of her way,” Stiles said.
Cheadle’s future plans involve competing in Division I track for one of six schools she has already applied to for her graduate studies. She is eligible to run track for one season next year because she missed her sophomore spring track season at Wash. U. due to a stress fracture. Stiles is confident that Cheadle will succeed at the highest collegiate level next year.
“I think she can be a Division I All-American next year in the 3,000-meter steeplechase,” Stiles remarked.
Meanwhile, Cheadle will have the chance to race this spring for the Washington University track-and-field team against Division I competition when she represents the Red and Green at the Stanford Invitational.
Regardless of the awards she receives in the coming seasons, Cheadle is excited about competing at the next level, calling it the “icing on the cake” to her four years running for the Bears.
“I always want to keep getting better. I want to chase after people and get pushed in a new way. It’ll be fun,” Cheadle said.
For now, however, Cheadle is focusing on the NCAA Midwest Regionals on Nov. 15 in Oshkosh, Wis. She is also focused on providing leadership to the seventh-ranked women’s team, which beyond Cheadle is loaded with younger talent in junior Ellen Toennies, sophomores Sarah Curci and Kimberly Johnson and freshman Alison Lindsay, all of whom placed in the top 10 at the UAA Championships.
In her freshman year, Cheadle placed third in the UAA Championships as she followed senior mentors Liz Phillips and Molly Wawrzyniak (class of 2012) to earn the NCAA team title. Now, it is Cheadle’s turn to lead as the veteran of a squad looking to do damage in the NCAA Championships later this November.
“My biggest goal with this whole year is to be as good of a role model as I can be for the younger girls and to try to set a tone for how I want the team to be in the future…that’s way more important than the individual successes that I have,” Cheadle said.
Expect to see Cheadle leading the Bears on Nov. 15 as she hopes to earn a bid to the NCAA Championships, where she earned fifth place a year ago. If you happen to be there, ask her about the temporary tattoos she puts on as a ritual before every race. The bigger the race, Cheadle explains, the weirder the tattoo.
The Midwest Regionals, of course, is a pretty big race.
“This is the fun part,” Cheadle said. “This is what we work all year for.”