It's difficult to top a season that included winning the Atlantic 10 Championship meet, placing 27th in the NCAA national meet, being named Atlantic 10 Women's Cross Country Student-Athlete of the Year and becoming GW's first-ever All-American cross-country runner.
That's what senior Megan Hogan did last season, and it's what she'll try to top this year, beginning with her season debut Saturday at the Penn State Invitational in State College, Pa.
Hogan missed GW's first three races of the 2010 season, held out by head coach Brian Beil in an effort to keep the All-American in peak shape for the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships Nov. 13. If she is successful there, Hogan will advance to the NCAA Championship race Nov. 22.
"I think it is a great idea," Hogan said of her coach's plan to keep her out of the team's early season races. "If it was my plan I probably wouldn't have done it but I'm glad I am doing it because coach Beil knows exactly what he's doing and the goal is for me to run my best at nationals."
"As a runner you can really only peak for a very short amount of time," Beil said. "You train hard, go through phases of training, and it can lead up to one big peak where you're very fast for a short amount of time. We're planning to hit that peak for one week where we get to NCAA regionals, which allows her to qualify for nationals. The goal all along has been to do her very best at nationals."
Hogan's rise to success as a runner has been anything but ordinary. The Ballston Spa, N.Y., native didn't run cross-country in high school. She began her college career at Mount Ida College in Newton, Mass., where she played basketball her freshman year. She started running the next year, and a year after that she transferred to GW, where her career on the cross-country team has flourished.
"I have not coached an athlete that has been as successful as her," Beil said. "Right away I didn't notice it. She was very raw, having only run one season. You don't recognize the presence of someone with that much natural ability until you start to see it come through maybe a year later. Last year it really dawned on me that we've got someone who can really take strides not just at the collegiate ranks but maybe to become one of the best American runners ever."
Hogan, who is a graduate student using her final season of NCAA eligibility, has been forced to train for much of this season away from the team, as she balances her graduate program with her running. The race this Saturday will be her first since the 2010 U.S. Track and Field Championships last June, where she finished sixth out of 27 runners and was one of just eight collegiate athletes to qualify.
As for this season, Hogan says her goal is to finish in the top five at the NCAA National Cross Country Championship, something she says will be easier with her modified training schedule this season. The race Saturday, Hogan said, will be the first steps on the road to competing for a national title.
"I think I'm taking this race as more of a 'get back into racing' kind of race," she said. "It's important because it's the regional course, so in a month I'll be racing there again for a spot in nationals. But also it's important as a confidence booster, and to give me an idea of where I'm at right now."