The injuries that cross-country runners suffer are often the result of overuse, like shin splints or IT-band tendonitis. In a sport with little physical contact, traumatic injuries become something of a rarity.
But this was not the case last year for sophomore James Leakos, who suffered a concussion in the 2010 edition of the Harvard-Yale meet in New Haven.
“I was moving to pass some guys and ran over a hill and fell into a sand trap,” Leakos said. “It was a bad experience.”
But Leakos is back, making up for last year’s disappointment in winning fashion and running to victory in a dual meet against Yale at Franklin Park on Saturday. Leakos covered the eight-kilometer course in 24 minutes, 21 seconds to lead the Crimson to an easy 11-point victory over its Ivy-League rival.
“It was more enjoyable celebrating the win with him afterwards as opposed to going to the hospital with him like last year,” Harvard coach Jason Saretsky said.
The Crimson’s strategy was to run as a pack for the first five kilometers, then push the pace and outlast the Bulldogs in the last two miles. According to Saretsky, Leakos executed this plan flawlessly.
“I was really pleased with his performance,” said Saretsky. “He ran with the confidence and poise of a seasoned veteran.”
Leakos demonstrated his prowess as the lead pack dwindled.
As freshman Billy Orman, a handful of Yale Harriers, and Leakos all vied for the top spot, the two Harvard runners knew exactly when to turn up the dial.
Leakos and Orman slowly pulled away from their opponents to snag a 1-2 finish in the Crimson’s only home meet of the year. Orman, running in his first-ever collegiate eight-kilometer race, clocked a time of 24:24.
“We’d been feeling them out a while, taking a few quick steps and seeing how long it took them to get back,” Leakos said of the strategy he and Orman used to pull away from the Bulldog runners. “I knew they were hurting when we wanted to pull away. When we went, we went. We definitely knew we could beat them if we ran our race strategy right.”
Saturday’s win was especially sweet for Leakos because of last year’s let-down. Not only did Leakos leave that race with a concussion, but the Crimson runners executed their race plan poorly and lost to a Yale team Harvard felt was not as talented.
“Last year, for example, I think we had the better team, but we went into the race overconfident,” Leakos said. “We went out way too fast and we died. They put some guys ahead of us that they shouldn’t have.
“This year, we knew we were good, and we just had to make sure we didn’t let them get [a win] they shouldn’t have,” he added.
Harvard made sure they didn’t suffer a repeat of last year, outscoring the Bulldogs, 23-34. Sophomores Kurt Ruegg (24:41), Maks Korolev (24:44) and Kellen Blumberg (24:57) finished fifth, sixth, and ninth, respectively, to round out the scoring positions for the Crimson.
With the mostly freshmen and sophomores leading the pack for Harvard, it was somewhat unclear as to who would step up and assume the number-one runner spot for the Crimson.
“Going into the race, [Leakos] had been really strong in our workouts,” Saretsky said. “This team has a potential for lots of number-one guys. James is super-competitive. He’s got the ability to run through pain like few others have.”
Leakos attributes his impressive early-season performance to his summertime training that has left him in arguably the best shape of his life.
“My training has been going really well,” Leakos said. “I’ve been pretty much injury free, and I got my mileage up to levels I never have this summer. This season, I’ve been running faster than I ever have been, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”