Girls cross country team takes on Griak


Lily Hudson

The girls cross country team prepares to run at the Roy Griak Invitational, one of the most competitive meets in the country.

After the race was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Shorewood girls cross country team once again competed in the prestigious Roy Griak Invitational on September 24 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The race is held at the Les Bolstad golf course, owned and used by the University of Minnesota. The Roy Griak Invitational, commonly known just as “Griak,” brings competition from around the country to a course renowned for its immense physical difficulty.

“Griak’s probably, over the course of that weekend, it’s probably the best cross country meet in the country,” said Geoff Gundlach, head coach.

This year, the team ran in the more competitive Gold race, having won the less competitive Maroon race in 2019.

 “The Gold race is predominantly division one teams from multiple different states; there were even a couple teams from Canada,” said Annika Elliott, senior. “We knew that the race was going to take us out faster and that overall, the times were going to be faster, but we saw that as a form of motivation as opposed to being afraid of it.”

The team finished 17th out of 45 teams. Overall, they were excited about the result, given the difficulty of the course and quality of the field.

“On the cooldown, there was still just positive energy, appreciation for the environment and what they had just done and the massive effort that it takes to run as hard as you can for [five kilometers] on a really hilly course,” Gundlach said.

While the Maroon race is generally less competitive than the Gold race, the team saw their previous victory as a necessary experience for this year’s meet.

“Going into [the Gold race], I think it just eased our nerves a little bit even though it is considered the faster race simply because we were a little more experienced,” Elliott said. “Having run the course before, we felt a different connection to it, so we were just more confident this time around.”

Going into [the Gold race], I think it just eased our nerves a little bit even though it is considered the faster race simply because we were a little more experienced,

— Annika Elliot, senior

Griak’s wide attendance is partly due to its difficult course, which contains numerous hills. Even with this extra challenge, the team persevered to finish in the best position possible, despite the naturally slower times.

“The course is hilly, it’s actually a little bit long too… It just gets back to what cross country is and that’s just competing against other people,” Gundlach said. “You don’t have to worry about time, just run a really hard course and see how you can do against other people that same day. It’s kind of a true test of cross country that way, it’s really fun.”

While many basic courses use looped paths to fit five kilometers, or a little over three miles, the Griak course barely intersects, making a more interesting route for the competitors.

“I liked the course because it wasn’t two loops of the same thing, it was one big loop, which was a change,” said Nayana Menon, sophomore.

The Griak course is among the hardest in the nation, but the Wisconsin state cross country meet in Wisconsin Rapids boasts a difficult course as well. Being the most important and competitive meet in Wisconsin, the team sees Griak as a way to prepare for the competition they will face at State.

“What I’ve always enjoyed about racing Griak is that because it is such a big meet and there is so much competition, you get used to having a ton of competition,” Elliott said. “When you get to the State meet and you get around teams that are higher levels and faster, you’re not as inexperienced.”

Aside from getting used to the heightened competition, the team also sees Griak as a learning opportunity for race strategy. Due to the large number of runners, some of the Shorewood runners found themselves farther back in the pack than they’d intended, requiring them to move up more throughout the race.

“It was a learning experience for everyone, myself included, and I’m not above admitting that,” Gundlach said. “I think there’s going to be a sense of urgency with how we approach the early part of that race in the future and I think a lot of the girls saw what happened and can adapt.”

It was a learning experience for everyone, myself included,

— Geoff Gundlach, head coach

While varsity ran at Griak on Friday, the JV runners on the trip ran at the Mustang Invitational the following day.

“There are two different races: the Griak and the Mustang… the top ten runners ran the Griak race and the other half ran the Mustang which was at a local middle school in Minnesota, which was also a fun course,” Menon said.

The trip to Minnesota was the first such trip for the team since the pandemic began in 2020. After over a year of social distancing due to COVID-19, the team was finally able to share an experience full of team bonding opportunities. In particular, the team has many traditions on the Griak trip, including dressing up for the races.

“We have this really cool tradition where those who are not racing are supposed to dress up in really crazy costumes and cheer for those who are racing,” Elliott said. “That is something that always brings the team together and is really fun to see.”

The Roy Griak Invitational brings together some of the best competition in the Midwest and the country, giving the Shorewood team a great opportunity to compete against the best of the best. Having held their own in the stellar Gold race field, the team is looking forward to the rest of their 2021 season.

“We know that there’s a lot ahead for us,” Gundlach said. “There’s over a month left in the season and we need to keep doing what we need to to be the best we can at the end of October.”