Jennings, like her buddy Porter, took no time off after the Olympics. "It's a gamble," she said the day before the race. "There was no time to take a break and still contest this. I've been waiting to crash." But Jennings wasn't going to crash just yet. She raced past one mile (oddly, the splits in these metric races were given in terms of miles) on the twisting and bumpy 6,000-meter (3.75-mile) course in 4:56, with her Athletics West teammate Sabrina Dornhoefer in shoulder-to-shoulder company. For the next half mile, the two stayed together, their brows gathered in fierce concentration. Finally, as the rocky, wooded trail headed up a small hill near the halfway point, Jennings sprang. "When we hit that little rise," she said after the race, "I floored it. Sabrina detached."
Jennings was never again in peril. She crossed the finish line in 19:32, 21 seconds ahead of Dornhoefer. Jennings, who has won three of the last four TAC championships, said afterward, "This is probably the most aggressive cross-country race I've run. In fact, I've raced aggressively since I came back from Seoul. Why? I don't know. Olympic fortitude?" With that, Jennings excused herself. "I've got to go cheer for Pat," she said.
Porter, in fact, was in need of some cheering. Just before the start of his 10,000-meter (6.2-mile) event, his nerves got to him. "I called Lynn over to calm me down," he said. "She said, 'Go from the gun.' Then she came back and said, 'But don't go too hard because the hills will catch you.' Then she said, 'Ah, just go.' " Porter shot away from the line and passed the first mile in 4:19, an astounding time, considering that that stretch featured tricky footing, an awkward switchback and several tough little hills. The only runner to stick with Porter was Richard Nerurkar, an Englishman doing graduate work at Harvard. "Somebody's got to try to beat him," said Nerurkar later.
But he wasn't going to be that somebody. Porter broke him on the same uphill where Jennings had detached Dornhoefer. At four miles, Porter's closest pursuer was no longer Nerurkar but Bob Kempainen, a 1988 Dartmouth graduate who had finished eighth in last year's TAC race, and Kempainen was gaining. He made up seven seconds on Porter in that fourth mile. "People kept yelling at me he was coming back," said Kempainen. "I knew that if he had any problem, I'd be on him in a second."
Porter's face was haggard and chalky. His fifth mile was a 5:02, and as his long strides drew him closer to the finish, he threw quick glances over his shoulder. "I had my spies from my alma mater, Adams State [in Colorado], all over the course telling me how close Kempainen was. Whenever I thought he was getting too close, I'd try to surge up a hill."
Kempainen gained a little in the sixth mile, but it was too late. As Porter eased through the final 200 yards, he turned to watch the race behind him. His work was done. Waving to an appreciative crowd, he finished the course in 31:07, 13 seconds ahead of Kempainen. After walking stiffly through the finish chute, Porter noticed that the inside of his left knee, where he'd spiked himself somewhere along the way, was bleeding. "I'm always covered with either blood or mud," he said. "That's what cross-country's all about, isn't it? The next one isn't going to be nearly as hard as this."
Porter is 29, he races selectively, and this meet clearly means a lot to him. Is there reason to doubt that he will be back to try to break the mark he now shares with Lash?
Porter was asked what he knew about the man whose record had stood unequaled for almost half a century. "Absolutely nothing, although I hear his name every year about this time. He must have been quite a horse." That you can believe: It's coming straight from another horse's mouth.