The demanding schedule of a high-level college distance runner culminated in a grueling, but rewarding, race for Dallas graduate Regan Rome.
As she tried to summon the energy to get up off the Hayward Field track, Rome had the spike marks on her legs to show just how tightly the nation’s top two dozen 5000-meter women’s runners stuck together in the first mile of their race at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships June 11 in Eugene, Oregon.
The William and Mary sophomore also had a prize to show for her seventh-place effort, a trophy recognizing her as a first-team All-American for placing in the top eight in the country.
“The big goal was to be in the top eight,” Rome said. “So getting that accomplished, I was just really excited about that.”
Rome wrapped up a school year in which she became just the third woman in William & Mary history – and the first sophomore – to receive All-American recognition in all three sports seasons, for cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field.
“It was a tough race,” Rome said. “I made an early move and my legs were just really tired.”
Rome went in seeded 10th and arrived at the last lap in about that spot with runners frequently trading spots. As the lap started, she made her move, getting as high as fourth or fifth place in pursuit of the top-eight finish, but then needed to hold on as others made their kick.
Rome and Portland’s Lauren LaRocco wound up racing each other down the last straightaway with LaRocco finishing in sixth place, just three-hundredths of a second faster than Rome’s career-best 16:06.50.
“I was trying hard, but she just outleaned me at the end,” Rome said.
Rome was just 4.68 seconds out of third place. If she took just 2.07 seconds longer to complete the race, however, the first-team status would have eluded her.
“Coming down, I knew I was in the top eight, but I also knew there were a lot of girls right next to me, so I knew it could still go either way,” said Rome, who ran the last 400-meter lap in 1:10.80, her fastest lap of the race. “I was just kicking as hard as possible.
“I knew it was going to very tight.”
The fine line between places for a race of that distance made saving every step possible early in the race important.
With little room to move over the first four-plus laps, Rome chose to avoid adding any extra length to her race by fighting for position along the rail rather than trying to move to the head of the pack.
“That is really tough to be in a tight pack like that,” Rome said. “There were 24 girls in the race and we went out in a 5:30 mile.
“If you go out at a 5:30 mile, everyone in a race of that caliber can run a 5:30 mile. So, everyone’s just packed up so tight. When I finished, I had so many spike marks from that first mile.
“You’re more just focusing on not falling and just getting in a good position, trying to ride the rail as much as possible.”
Getting caught outside Lane One on turns adds distance to the race.
While the runners tried to save steps, they also tried to save their energy for a big finish.
Most of the field picked up its speed as the race went on, with Rome and others among the leaders running the final mile in under five minutes.
“You’re looking for who’s going to make the first move,” Rome said, pointing out that each of the regional qualifying races developed into a similar pace. “You’re thinking ‘make sure you cover that move’.
“You have to be ready for that.”
Rome proved ready with her top place finish of a brilliant sophomore year. She was 25th at cross country nationals against a much larger pool of runners both on the way to and at nationals. In indoor season, she was 12th in the 3000-meter run.
The outdoor performance earned Rome a rare breather from the sport.
Although she flew home with her parents, Craig and Amy Rome, after the race, Regan could not be seen running the roads of the Back Mountain. She took one week off from training to rest and recover and won’t be racing again until her first college event of the fall at William & Mary.