The men’s and women’s cross-country teams plan to load up on a bus Thursday, Sept. 28, and head 10 hours north to Fayetteville, Arkansas for one of the largest cross-country events in the nation: the Chile Pepper Festival. The Tigers will be one of 80 college cross-country teams battling through the competition.
While no major SCAC or Division III rivals will be in attendance, head coach Emily Daum emphasizes the importance of runners getting a glimpse of what running a major race is like.
“The reason I like taking the team to Chile Pepper isn’t because of competition, but because it gives them the opportunity to go to a huge meet, where the size of the field is pretty similar to how nationals is. Having that experience of being just surrounded by people is really good for them. There are going to be over 6,500 runners and over 6,000 spectators this year,” Daum said.
Despite several injuries on the men’s team and a few on the women’s team, the runners have had a very successful start to their season. Both the men’s and women’s teams have won all of their meets so far this year, whether on home turf or across Texas at the Abilene Christian University Naimadu Classic. They are optimistic about the rest of the season as well.
“Some of us are banged up, but I’m excited to see how everyone does at Chile Pepper,” said Austin Brown, senior engineering and math double major and captain of the men’s team. “The meet is unique in that it has over 500 runners on the starting line from over 80 colleges of DI, DII and DIII. Therefore, you have to start well or else you are stuck in your position for almost the entire first mile. This race makes every other race less intimidating, especially conference and regionals. It’s just a really fun race!”
Some of the younger runners on the team aren’t sure what to expect from the Chile Pepper Festival.
“I’m personally excited for the massive amount of competitors running in it. It’s like a music festival, but with runners,” said Jack Powers, first-year communication major.
This will be the first time in several years that the men’s race will be a 10K instead of the usual 8K or 5K distance. Meanwhile, the women will continue racing the 5K distance. The runners are not used to this increased distance and will likely not race a 10K again unless they make it to the national championship.
“The 5K is very familiar to us coming in from high school, who only ran 5Ks as all their cross-country races. The 8K is more mentally straining than a 5K and a little bit more outside of our comfort zone. The 10K is the great unknown. It will be a difficult, but welcome challenge to newcomers and old timers alike,” Powers said.
The stakes aren’t very high, but doing well in the mega-race helps the runners feel confident as they start moving towards their more important meets of the season. In addition, they always get to pick up some chile pepper-related running gear, like t-shirts and socks.
Where does the chile pepper theme come from? Most of the runners and coaches didn’t know.
“I remember we went looking it up because the food they served post-race didn’t contain a single chile! Only the clothes and accessories had chiles on them. Named for the Chile Pepper Running Club, apparently,” Brown said.
According to the Chile Pepper Festival website, the founders started the Chile Pepper Running Club in order to fundraise for their high school cross-country teams in Fayetteville, Arkansas. From that, the Chile Pepper Festival was created in 1992, and it’s now one of the largest cross-country events in the nation. They also donate thousands of dollars to schools in Fayetteville.
While you might not make it out to Arkansas to support your Tigers, you can catch them competing at the University of Incarnate Word Invitational in Live Oak, TX on Saturday, Oct. 7.