As the finish line drew closer in the women's race of the USF Invitational season-opening cross country meet Saturday at Golden Gate Park, Vanessa Fraser and Elise Cranny couldn't resist.
"Let's go," they agreed. With a final push, they passed USF's Charlotte Taylor and surged to victory. Fraser and Cranny finished 1-2, with both in 20:52.3 for 6 kilometers and just 0.01 ahead of Taylor. That was not the plan and definitely not encouraged.
Stanford, with only one practice after the team reported Thursday, was not out for victory. Rather, the event served as a workout for the Cardinal -- hit certain splits and don't be overly competitive. But with victory so close, the temptation was too great for the Stanford All-America duo.
With about 1 kilometer to go, as they headed up a slight incline and still on pace, the Stanford teammates discussed their strategy.
"Should we get her?" Cranny asked.
"No, let's wait," Fraser said. "We shouldn't."
But with 100 to go, all that changed.
"It's at the end, why not sprint a little bit," Fraser said.
The Cardinal women were second as a team to San Francisco, 41-45, and California was third with 47.
In the men's race, all seven Stanford runners finished together, separated by 0.5 seconds. The Cardinal was fourth as a team with 95, with Cal winning easily with 21.
"NCAA rules dictate that we have a meet within 21 days after the start of practice," said Chris Miltenberg, men's cross country coach. "Our first meet really falls out of that, so basically we have to make sure we run this meet today to facilitate being able to train for the next month."
The plan was for Fraser and Cranny to go begin at a 5:37 mile pace and work down to 5:21, with their teammates at a slightly slower pace.
"I was surprised how chill it went out," Fraser said. "Nobody really took it, but it was kind of nice because Elise and I just settled in the front from the beginning."
However, as they completed the last of their three loops around the Polo Fields, Taylor took the lead. But not for long.
Fraser, a senior from Scotts Valley, is coming off her best year, earning All-America honors in cross country, and indoor and outdoor track. She took three weeks off from running after the NCAA Outdoor Championships, but has eased back into training and recently completed back-to-back 70-mile weeks for the first time.
"I definitely feel stronger than any years past," Fraser said. "I think it's a reflection of the track season I had. In terms of base strength, I have more than I've ever had before, but I'm definitely not sharp at all."
Cranny had an eventful summer. After finishing second in the 1,500 meters at the NCAA Championships, she reached the semifinals of the Olympic Trials and then trained at her parents' home in Colorado, winning a road mile in downtown Boulder.
She missed the 2015 cross country season because of injury, but was the Pac-12 runner-up as a freshman in 2014 and is eager for the new season.
The Stanford men looked to run at 5:15 mile pace and increase that to 5:05. Though they moved up throughout, they stuck to their plan.
"The idea was just to run a very controlled tempo run together," Miltenberg said. "Never let it get to a place where it gets anaerobic and chasing guys down. It was a great sign of where they're at where they can run 25 minutes for an 8K and basically have a conversation the whole way. That's what we want to see: staying under control, so we can get recovered and really get to work the next few weeks."
No Stanford freshmen competed in either race, and Cardinal men's All-Americas Sean McGorty and Grant Fisher sat it out too. Making their collegiate debuts after redshirt seasons were sophomores Lauer and Ostberg, each a 5,000 champion at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in high school.
Hurlock, a junior, made his first Stanford cross country appearance after missing the past two seasons as a redshirt and then injury.
At Mammoth, "the main thing for the next month is just consistency," Miltenberg said. "I told the guys, 'from Sept. 3 to Oct. 3, we're not going to feel great. We're going to carry a lot of training volume and fatigue. We do that, and we'll have the foundation for the rest of the season. Be consistent and lay the foundation."