Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 47
 
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
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TAKING THE LEAD: Princeton University women’s cross country senior star Liz Costello heads to the tape in late October on her way to winning her third straight Ivy League Heptagonal Women’s Cross Country individual title. Last Monday, Costello placed 18th in the NCAA cross country championship meet as the Tigers took fifth in the team standings for a second straight year.

Overcoming Some Bumps in the Road, Costello Leads PU Women’s Cross Country

Bill Alden

For Princeton University cross country star Liz Costello, the NCAA cross country championship meet in 2007 marked a nadir in her superb running career.

Although she entered the meet as the Tigers’ top-ranked runner, Costello, then a sophomore, passed out briefly on the course and straggled home in 209th place.

“I was physically burnt out from not enough sleep and mentally I put too much pressure on myself,” said Costello, recalling that dark day in Terre Haute, Ind.

“I was thinking ‘you have worked so hard through whatever the training, show it all today.’ You just can’t do that to yourself mentally; if it is there, it will come out.”

The Tigers struggled collectively in the 2007 competition, finishing 14th in the team standings after coming into the day ranked fourth in the nation.

In Costello’s view, the whole team gained a valuable lesson that day. “I think maybe what the team learned and what I certainly learned is you don’t need to think about that stuff so much,” said Costello.

“We are all veterans; we know how to compose ourselves and run confidently and smoothly and let’s just get the job done today. Sometimes a more moderate approach, even though it is an extreme situation, is helpful.”

In 2008, Costello and the Tigers proved they had learned their lesson at the NCAAs. The native of Strafford, Pa. set the pace for Princeton, taking 11th in the individual standings to help the Tigers finish 5th in the team race.

Last Monday, senior star Costello produced another composed effort at the NCAA meet, coming in 18th as the Tigers took fifth in the team standings for a second straight year.

Costello clocked a time of 20:25 on the 6k course in Terre Haute with sophomore Alex Banfich next for Princeton in 43rd place followed by juniors Sarah Cummings in 49th and Ashley Higginson in 57th.

In reflecting on her Princeton career, Costello is proud of how far she has come over the last four years.

“First of all, there was a jump in mileage,” said Costello, referring to her transition to college running. “Even though I had done cross country in high school, my mileage almost doubled. I had only done two hour-long runs in my high school career. To get the Princeton summer program saying hour, hour, hour with a 30-minute pick-up, I was just like, my body can’t do this. I made myself do it, I was looking at the clock every minute, 42, 43, 44.”

Costello also had to learn to make the most of every minute when it came to her classwork.

“I definitely had some time with tutors; I had to find those resources my freshman year,” said Costello, an engineering major.

“I was having a difficult time, I don’t think I knew how difficult it was until I look back on it and I think I would never want to do it again.”

A major confidence builder in Costello’s freshman fall came when she placed sixth at the Ivy League Heptagonal Women’s Cross Country Championship at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

“I really liked Van Cortlandt Park since I raced it for the first time at the Foot Locker regionals in high school,” said Costello.

“It was my first year of cross country and I got sixth. That was one of the hardest races I have ever run, in the cold and trying to stay in that top 10. I have never felt as terrible after a race as I did that day, It made it really special so I have always looked at Van Cortlandt Park in a special way because of that race. Then Heps went well my freshman year.”

Costello built on that performance by winning the Hep individual crown the next three seasons, making her just the second runner to accomplish that feat.

In assessing her 2009 Heps victory, Costello admitted she felt some butterflies at the starting line.

“I definitely felt some pressure at the Heps meet because individually there was some stuff on the line there,” said Costello, who covered the 5k course in 16:55. “I was trying to defend for a second time. I wanted to do that and I was favored to do that. I didn’t want to let myself down or my team down.”

For Costello, Princeton’s achievement of going 1-2-3-4-5 at the Heps this fall in winning its fourth straight team title was as satisfying as her individual crown.

“We wanted to go out and run a strong race and try to win as we were favored to do in a classy manner,” said Costello.

“We respect the other Ivy League athletes and we love that meet. To actually get the sweep and the fourth victory and the lowest team score, you couldn’t have done any more that day. It took a while for that all to sink in. When it finally sunk in, it was like ‘oh my god, we did it this year,’ this is something really special.”

The special bond Costello feels with her teammates has played a major role in her progress.

“We all really love each other; we like hanging outside of practice too,” said Costello.

“I know I can ask them for help and they are right there for me. I think that is why we are so close because we have an understanding of what everybody is going through and we are willing to help.”

As Costello looks to follow her cross country season by coming up big in the upcoming indoor and outdoor track seasons, she believes the experience she has gained over her Princeton career will help her succeed.

“I think this year, I have matured a little bit more,” said Costello, an All-Ivy performer in the indoor and outdoor mile.

“I know some of my limitations more; I know more of what I want. I prioritize more clearly and my experience has led me to know a better way to get to those goals. I know more of what they are and how to get there.”

Inspired by the success that former Princeton standout Cack Ferrell has had in running professionally, Costello is looking at a goal of competing after Princeton.

“I think since she went on to run and some of the guys have done that too, it seems a lot more plausible,” said Costello.

“Also in talking to coach [Peter] Farrell and my parents, the support is there. If I had any self doubt, the people around me are like ‘no, you should give that a shot’ and that has pushed me more in that direction. Also there is only so much time you have to really pursue this goal.”

Costello has shown that a few bumps in the road won’t keep her from accomplishing her goals.

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