The Men’s Cross Country team took a hit last week at Ivy League Championships, but they’re gearing up to go again soon at NCAA’s. At the front of the pack is captain Chris Luciano, an energetic Econ major with a heart of gold and a passion for chocolate milk. Despite being a relative latecomer to the sport, Chris took off in high school as a natural distance runner. Four years later, he’s here to tell Street about his time as a student athlete at Penn.
34th Street: You're one heck of a runner. How’d you get into the sport?
Chris Luciano: I actually used to swim year-round, ever since kindergarten. It’s what all of my friends did, it’s what my younger brother did, but I wasn’t very good at it and I could never figure out why. For the time I was putting into it, I should have been better. After sophomore year swim season ended, I was super frustrated that swimming still didn’t just feel right, so I went out for the track team. And honestly without putting much effort in, I found that I was able to take the fitness I had from swimming and do really well, even with very little running experience. I was just like “Holy cow! This is way easier than swimming is!” The success was addicting, so I started doing cross country, and getting into the rhythm of it. Then I did swimming and cross country, which I absolutely do not recommend. It was terrible. I ran and then ate and then swam and then did homework and then went to bed, and that was just my life. So I quit swimming.
Street: What was the college recruiting process like for you once you realized you were going to keep running in college?
CL: Super stressful. It’s like…it’s like looking for like a job at the same time as worrying about college applications. You’ve basically been doing this sport your entire life, and the whole goal was always just to see if you could beat your times, but now in the back of your head you have this voice going, like, “Oh, if I can run this specific time, I can go to this specific school!” And I think that’s incredible stressful.
Street: Has being a college athlete been what you expected?
CL: It’s definitely tough. In high school you can kind of get away with doing tons of sports and school, just because it’s easier. But when you get to college, a lot of it become a function of time. if you have more time to study for something or more time to do something, it’s probably going to be correlated with how well you’re going to do, and that natural intelligence you could use to get by in high school isn’t’ there anymore. So I think in that aspect it can be a little rough for people.
There’s obviously just a lot of talk about mental health. Sometimes there are just these pressures that are put on people to always be the best and compete, and it’s very similar in athletics. When you have people expecting you to compete in the classroom and do your best and compete in athletics and do your best, it can be very overwhelming. But it’s been super rewarding. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t an athlete, if I now had all this time on my hands. I guess I’d probably put some more time into studying, but I think I’d find myself getting bored. I feel like I always need to be doing something.
Street: Well, it works! You guys won the Ivy League Championships last year!
CL: Yea! First time in 43 years.
Street: What was that like? To work toward that, and get that win?
CL: It was awesome. The year before, we barely lost, and it was super upsetting. We were all devastated because we knew we could do it, but we were just, like, 4 points off the win. We got second instead, and it was just this miserable feeling. But then last year, finally being able to do it, I think it ended up meaning a lot more to everybody than we realized. The team had come such a long way, and being a part of that is super satisfying.
And then, as the days go on afterwards, it becomes less about the team, and more about everyone who was on the team, and representing the school. I think a lot of us didn’t realize the impact that our win would have, like having alumni come up to us and say, “Wow, you made us so proud.” I’m sure most people don’t even realize, but Penn is really highly regarded as a distance running school in the Ivy League and in the country, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that they’re being represented in such a way.
This year’s Ivy League Championships were last weekend, and Penn placed third. Was that difficult after last year’s big win?
CL: So, obviously getting third was not the result we were hoping for. We knew going into the meet that it was going to come down to Princeton, Columbia, or us. In all fairness, Princeton and Columbia ran great races, and it would have taken a special day from everyone on our team to have won. But what's past is past. We now just need to dissect the race and figure why it didn't go as well as we planned, learn from the experience, and get ready to go again because we have the NCAA regional race in 2 weeks.
This race is a little unique, especially compared to last week’s, for a few reasons. First, it’s a 10k instead of an 8k. Second, the course has significantly fewer hills. And third, if we get first or second, we can continue on as a team to the national meet. Although these differences may seem minor, they actually do add up. The way we’ve been training is conducive of running a strong 10k, so we’re excited to have another shot to mix it up and race against Princeton and Georgetown again.
Street: What’s a standard workout look like?
CL: A standard week is running every single day, with workouts on Tuesday and Friday. Going into the season you have the option, but we’re nudged to run a lot. If you race a long distance, you have to be able to go that distance. For me personally, the upper range I hit was 100 miles in one week, which was crazy. I don’t know if I ever want to do that again.
But usually it’s around mid-80s to low-90s a week, with a long run on Sunday that can be up to two hours, a longer workout on Tuesdays that’s more like eight to ten miles of hard running, and then a Friday workout that’s usually five to six miles of really quality running. The rest of the days of the week are just more of a mileage thing, you can talk to your friends, whereas the other workouts are really about doing it. You have to be a little messed up to run that far. In a good way, of course.
Street: And yet you somehow found the time to add another minor this week.
CL: Yea! I just added a History minor. I took the Third Reich with Tom Childers sophomore year, and then I took this other history class that counted for something but ended up being really interesting. I’m one of those people that really always needs something to work towards, and I don’t have any major classes left – all I have to do is one of the college requirements. So I was like, “God, what am I going to take next semester?” I’d feel bad taking random classes that I’m just not interested in. So it’s going to be four history classes, with one of them counting for the last sector I need. It’s doable, it’s just going to be a very different type of semester.
Street: What’s your running life going to look like after you graduate?
CL: I’m probably going to take some time off, then run a half-marathon, you know, just to make it more fun. And then next thing you know you’re a full-blow addict again.
Street: Tell me a story that describes you in a nutshell.
CL: So turns out that with enough effort, I can be convinced to do pretty much anything. This summer I went on a 31 mile, three-day, two-night backpacking trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The thing is: I don't camp. Like, ever. The extent of my camping experience was sleeping in a tent in my backyard to justify to my dad that buying a tent wasn't a total waste of money. Yet somehow my summer roommates convinced – bribed me with whisky – to go, and I ended up having an awesome time, even though I probably slept a total of four hours and it hailed on us the last day. Plus, I only had to drink filtered pond water once, which was a pleasant surprise.
Street: What’s something I forgot to ask you?
CL: My number.
The last tab I closed on my computer was... "Youtube. I was probably watching car videos."
The coolest class I’ve taken at Penn was... "Third Reich, it’s basically the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. He’s just objectively the best and most versed WWII and Nazi Germany professor."
My favorite post-workout snack is... "Chocolate milk. But the key is that you can’t just have one chocolate milk, you have to drink enough of it until you feel sick."
Cross-country or track? "Cross Country."
There are two types of people at Penn... "People who drink black coffee, and people who like coffee-flavored things."