For senior Michaela Mast, running has never been about winning. Even with the wins piling up, running represents something more than a competition: an exercise in presence.
“I never run with music, or with a podcast, or with my phone. It’s a very grounding experience,” said Mast. “Being more in touch with my surroundings and with myself clears my head, and moving my body kind of releases something in my brain so that thoughts just start running; I don’t get stuck in my head. It’s a very creative space for me.”
Many runners talk about the ability to clear their head and focus when they run, but in Mast’s case, it is just the opposite. In fact, for Mast, running is a place of idea generation.
“When I get into that flow, ideas just start coming, and I have a lot of clarity, and so I might come out of a run with three theses for a project I’m working on … it unlocks some type of creative energy. I stop thinking about thinking.”
This year, Mast’s passion for finding groundedness amidst exercise has taken her to unexpected success in a competitive ODAC cross-country field. Most recently, Mast received her second ODAC Player of the Week award after demolishing the field at Christopher Newport University this past weekend, finishing more than half a minute ahead of the second-place finisher, sophomore teammate Megan Good. According to Mast, however, her best race of the season was the Sept. 29 Paul Short Run in Lehigh, Pennsylvania.
“The energy at that meet was so great,” Mast said. “I was running with a lot of fast people, and surrounded by lots of fans … the course itself is great, and the weather was perfect … everything just aligned really well.”
At Paul Short, Mast placed 17th in a field of almost 300 runners, setting personal records in both her 5K and 6K time and pacing far faster than she had in the first two meets. Interim Head Coach Hannah Chappell-Dick commended Mast for her hard work, both before and throughout the season.
“It has been fun and surprising to watch Michaela rise to every challenge I’ve presented to her,” said Chappell-Dick. “She worked very hard over the summer, even running during camping trips at altitude. She deserves this success because she has put the miles in, despite being new to the sport.”
Mast’s blistering times are not her only contribution to the team. Chappell-Dick and Mast’s teammates all pointed out her dedication to team chemistry and relationships.
Chappell-Dick said, “Michaela is very invested in her teammates. When a teammate succeeds, she celebrates with them. When a teammate hits a rough patch, she is empathetic and supportive.”
Senior roommate and fellow cross-country runner Kat Lehman agrees. “She’s very caring,” said Lehman. “We try to take care of each other, and she’s totally into that … just a very supportive, caring presence.”
First-year teammate Justice Allen added, “Michaela brings so many things to the team. There has never been a day where she has not had a smile on her face and asked how my day is going.”
For Mast, though, the support goes both ways. She emphasized feeling incredibly supported by her cross-country teammates, despite her initial successes, which can sometimes be divisive in a sport with individual competitors. “That’s been a challenge for me, and I’ve actually talked to them about it,” said Mast. “They responded with … incredible positivity, and they really are in it for the team, and that makes me want to be in it for the team, too.”
The Royals’ next meet is the ODAC Championships meet on Saturday, Oct. 28, at Virginia Wesleyan University in Virginia Beach.