Most cross country runners are introduced to the racing distance of 3.1 miles at the high school level.
Jennie Lucy, however, got her baptism to the 5-kilometer distance in college, competing for a Division I program no less.
Things are working just fine so far for the Bangor native and University of Maine freshman, who will be on center stage along with the rest of the Black Bears at Saturday’s Murray Keatinge Invitational in Orono.
Races get under way at 10 a.m., starting with the women’s race with the men’s race to follow at 10:45.
Lucy, who ran a 5K personal best of 19 minutes, 19.32 seconds in placing 10th overall and seventh among UMaine runners in a duel meet last Friday against New Hampshire, knows the caliber of runners she’ll face this weekend will be some of the best in the nation.
Two top-25 teams will make their way to Orono for the competition, including 20th ranked and defending meet champion Duke University and No. 25 Boston College, both out of the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I’m really excited, there’ll be much more competition, many more teams,” Lucy said.
Having specialized in mid-distance events such as the 400, 800 and mile during her career at Bangor High, Lucy had to make the difficult translation from running 25 miles a week to 60 the first week of the Black Bears’ preseason training camp at the end of August.
“It’s a hard adjustment to make, I was struggling,” she said. “We would wake up every morning at like 7 and run 3 miles, the whole week was really just eat, sleep and run.”
These days, Lucy is logging about 40 miles a week, which is a pretty solid base.
“[She’s doing] pretty good so far, she’s been able to handle all the work,” said Maine coach Mark Lech. “She’s adapted pretty well, I’m very pleased with her.”
The scary thing is, when Lucy ran her 5K PR, she wasn’t feeling 100 percent.
“I had a stomachache,” she said. “I was really happy, that was a PR by like 20 seconds, I was really excited.”
Pretty good for a first-year cross country participant.
“I thought I would be around 21-22 minutes, so I’m pretty happy with the low 19s right now,” Lucy said.
She has aspirations of breaking the 19-minute barrier.
“Eventually throughout the four years I hope to be able to do that,” Lucy said.
As the season has gone along, Lucy has adapted nicely to the UMaine training regime, which consists of two quality work-outs a week, easy distance runs and a long run.
“It’s way different than high school … the way [Lech] coaches is obviously paying off,” Lucy said.
She’s hoping to regain her speed come indoor track and field season, which can be somewhat tough after focusing on longer runs and tempo-like speed work during cross country season.
“It’s going to be a tough transition … I’d be interested to see what my mile or 800 time would be right now,” said Lucy.
Lech certainly sees those times being very fast.
“She’s going to be that much stronger, her background’s going to be that much stronger, when we start working the really more specific stuff into the 800 she’ll be able to do a lot more,” he explained.
He added that regaining the speed shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Lucy’s close friend and fellow Penobscot Valley Conference alum Hilary Maxim of Old Town has flourished thus far in her freshman season with the Bears, and was their No. 2 runner against UNH last week.
“She’s responded well, she ran a 30-second PR or so [last week] so I can’t complain about that,” Lech said.
Also leading the way are Corey Conner of Townsend, Mass., who has been the Bears’ top runner so far this fall.
Vanessa Letourneau of Fairfield, Brunswick’s Chelsea Leeman, Stephanie Jette of Lovell, Brenna Walsh of Nova Scotia, Farmington’s Jordan Daniel, Maegan Ellis of Farmingdale and Allison Conner, also of Townsend, Mass, are all having solid seasons thus far.
The reigning Keatinge champion Blue Devils and BC Eagles should battle it out for top honors, while UNH could be right there as well.
Maddie McKeever, who cruised to the individual crown last year, returns to lead Duke.
Other teams competing on the women’s side include Dartmouth, Holy Cross, New Hampshire, Yale and the University of New Brunswick.
The men’s races will have plenty of Maine flavor, as the UMaine roster not only boasts a number of Pine Tree State natives, but a pair of former local high school stars will return to their native state.
Ben True, who starred at Greely in Cumberland Center and won the Maine division of the Beach to Beacon 10K this summer, is returning with Dartmouth along with Ellsworth’s Corey DeWitt.
True and DeWitt will be looking to lead the Big Green past instate rival and defending meet champion New Hampshire.
True has built quite a resume at Dartmouth, as he has earned All-American honors in cross country and track and field, holds school records in three events and has broken the 4-minute barrier in the mile.
“The edge with Dartmouth might be with Ben True being here this year,” Lech said.
True will also be one of the favorites for top individual honors.
The Black Bears have been sparked by Corey Bean of Cornville, Miles Bartlett of Casco, Charlie Theriault of Clinton, Mass., Riley Masters of Bangor, Brendan Carr of Brewer, Noah Schoneberg of Limington and Marc Halverson of Falmouth.
Masters, a freshman, is adjusting fairly well to the 5-mile racing distance compared to 5Ks in high school.
“He’s still having a little [trouble] over the fourth and fifth mile, I think he’s getting beyond that,” Lech said.
Lech expects both the Maine men’s and women’s teams to compete for top-5 finishes.