By Dan Guttenplan
---- — A national championship might seem like the perfect ending to a cross-country career for many runners, but Betsy Suda isn’t like many runners.
Suda, who continues to get faster 13-plus years after graduating from Newburyport High, won the 2013 National Intercollegiate Running Club Association national championship Nov. 16 in Hershey, Pa. Suda broke the tape in 22:22, bettering a course record set by 2012 champion Becky Boyle of Indiana by nine seconds. Suda, who also won the NIRCA national title in 2011, became the first runner in NIRCA’s eight-year history to win more than one national title.
The national championship meet marked Suda’s final race as a member of the University of Florida team. The 32-year-old graduate student will graduate this month with a Masters degree in biochemistry. She has accepted a position at Santa Fe Community College teaching basic chemistry and organic chemistry.
Suda beat University of Minnesota grad student Cara Donahue, the second-place finisher, by 20 seconds on a hilly course. North Carolina sophomore Alyssa Vassallo placed third two seconds behind Donahue.
“It was a best-case scenario for me,” Suda said. “The race went out really quickly, like most large races do. We funneled to a narrow path. The girl from Minnesota went right to the front, and I let her go. After the first half mile, I saw the gap between us wasn’t being extended. I started to move up on her, and when I was right with her, she said, ‘Good job.’ I thought she would race me for a little longer, but she was content to let me go past her.”
Suda led the race from just before the 1K mark all the way to the finish of the 6K course. It served as a bit of redemption for the 2000 Newburyport High graduate, who finished ninth in the NIRCA national championship last fall. Suda, who is used to training on flat terrain in Florida, won the 2011 race on a fast course at McAlpine Park in Charlotte, NC. She struggled on the hills when the national championship moved to Hershey last fall.
“I made this meet my goal back in May,” Suda said. “I wanted to focus on this race and do plenty of cross-country running in the fall. Last year, the course tore me up. I wasn’t really prepared, and the other girls were faster and stronger. Ninth was fine, I was proud of that. It wasn’t a great race, but I did the best I could despite not being trained for it.”
Training under Will Harding with Florida Track Club, Suda sought out hills, trails and athletic fields on which to train this fall. She found the sugar-sand trails in Florida strengthened the muscles in her feet, giving her more stability during races.
Newburyport cross-country coach Don Hennigar often uses Suda as an example of how much a runner can improve through hard work and perseverance. Suda started running cross-country in 1996, her freshman year at Newburyport. In 1997, she was the No. 3 Newburyport runner on the 1997 state champion team. By her senior year in 1999, she achieved All-Cape Ann League honors. She continued her running career at Emmanuel College, helping to establish a program at the Boston school.
Suda will continue to train with Florida Track Club this winter in preparation for the indoor and outdoor track seasons. She struggled to pinpoint the biggest factor in her ascent from inexperienced high school runner to collegiate national champion.
“I don’t think it’s one thing,” Suda said. “I love running. I don’t know how to give up. I’ve just stuck with it. For women, if you stick with the sport and stay healthy, and keep positive and motivational people around you, it helps you achieve your goals. It’s amazing what can happen.”
The NIRCA National Championships
Place, name School Time
1. Betsy Suda University of Florida 22:22
2. Cara Donohue University of Minnesota 22:42
3. Anna Gordon University of Virginia 22:44
4. Alyssa Vassallo University of North Carolina 22:51
5. Sarah Sisson University of Virginia 22:51
The NIRCA National Championships Results Place, name School Time 1. Betsy Suda University of Florida 22:22 2. Cara Donohue University of Minnesota 22:42 3. Anna Gordon University of Virginia 22:44 4. Alyssa Vassallo University of North Carolina 22:51 5. Sarah Sisson University of Virginia 22:51