On Friday, fifth-year senior Daniel Tobin will be running the biggest race of his career.
From a walk-on freshmen struggling to keep up with the rest of the team to a fifth-year senior coming off the two best races of his career, Tobin has come a long way in cross country during his time at Tennessee.
But Tobin's next race on Friday is exceedingly more important than the previous two races.
Besides being the second biggest race on the calendar this season and the race before the NCAA Championships, Tobin has a personal reason why this weekend's NCAA Regional Championships in Tuscaloosa, Ala., are so important.
Performing well in this race will allow the Springfield, Va., native to qualify for the national meet for the first time ever in his career. The NCAA Championships will be held Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind., and a strong performance this weekend will earn Tobin a berth.While he knows that will be no simple task, Tobin feels confident about his chances of making the national meet.
"The most important thing is to make the national meet," Tobin said. "But it's not going to be easy, it's got a few qualifying standards you have to hit. I have never run in one before for the four years I have been competing for Tennessee, and this is definitely the best chance I have to make it with my momentum and the program the coaches have me doing."
Cross country coach J.J. Clark also expressed confidence in Tobin's abilities and noted how much he has progressed while running for Tennessee.
"I watched Daniel come in as a freshmen," Clark said. "I watched him mature. I watched him learn to balance everything, and this year he is one of our key role players in cross country."
Clark said he had a discussion with Tobin about his chances of qualifying and said he believes Tobin can qualify for the national race.
"I expressed my confidence that he can meet this challenge," Clark said. "He has to run the best race he has ever had, and I believe he can."
In preparation, Tobin said he has cut back on running and focused on doing the other things away from the track that make a runner successful."The week before, everyone stresses," Tobin said. "Eating right and sleeping right are the two most important things for your body.
"This week has been making sure you have been hydrated everyday, eating the right meal every meal, and getting to bed on time, getting a lot of recovery."
Tobin also has several pre-race rituals included in his preparation for a race, although he admitted they do not affect his race. These rituals include: tucking his laces in a certain way before every race, making sure they are tucked in the right way, drinking tea the night before the race, bringing tea packets with him to the hotel, and if there is no boiling water, he will walk to a bar to get hot water. He also wears a necklace for every race.
Tobin said he still gets butterflies in his stomach due to anxiousness. But it's common among cross-country athletes and he is enough of a veteran to avoid most of the nerves.
"In racing, the biggest thing everyone knows is the nerves before it," Tobin said. "The one thing you learn after doing this for so long is that the nerves go away as soon as the gun goes off. After four years of high school running and five years of college running, its gotten to the point where I don't really get the nerves anymore, which is nice.
"But you still do get the anxiousness, so you do have a little bit of the butterflies in your stomach before the race, and sometimes the night before when you are thinking about it and visualizing."