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Last month, the NAU flag returned to the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Indiana. You may remember that the NAU flag has journeyed to fly above the previous three NCAA cross country championship meets.

It last flew in Terre Haute in 2016, where it presided over the Northern Arizona men’s first national championship. Then it went to Louisville, Kentucky, and Madison, Wisconsin. Each time, it presided over a win by the NAU men’s team. This year, it got to fly over both the men’s and women’s teams, as the women returned the entire team to nationals for the first time in more than a decade.

On Nov. 23, the Midwest dished out light rain, heavier rain, and still heavier rain on a balmy, 36-degree day. The course is on a converted coal mine and sanitary landfill. It is a dedicated cross country course with generally good footing consisting of a heavy grass cover across gently rolling terrain. This is an extremely spectator-friendly course for viewing a race -- in weather that occurs much of the year in Indiana. But in late November there, as in most of the Midwest, the weather is typically cold and wet, and not very spectator- (or flag-) friendly.

Like its travel companion, the flag did not enjoy the cold, wet conditions this year. While flying over the women’s race, the flag was damp and flapped a little. Despite the soggy conditions, the NAU women ran a strong race to a result that exceeded expectations. They were ecstatic in the finish area, enjoying their success.

By the time the men’s race started, the flag was soaked, dripping on surrounding spectators. One cold, wet spectator from another school that shall remain nameless even complained to me that the wet flag was bugging them. Still, it flew.

The rain grew heavier and remained steady during the entire men’s race. The Lumberjacks packed well and ran a great race in tough conditions. You likely have already heard the results: NAU’s finish wasn’t enough to overcome the better race run by the BYU men. We spectators were trying to count places while dashing around the muddy course. We thought NAU and Colorado were close: NAU finished one point better than the Buffaloes, to claim the runner-up position on the podium.

In the finish area after the race, our team and coaches were clearly disappointed, but they were gracious and thankful for their accomplishments during the awards ceremony. They were outstanding representatives for Flagstaff, NAU and our running community.

I encourage you to consider traveling to see a national championship. It’s an exciting and entertaining spectator environment, no matter the weather conditions. Next year, the championships are in Stillwater, Oklahoma, followed by Tallahassee, Florida, in 2021. NAU will return as a strong contender. Plan on attending to see the start of a new championship streak!

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When not running the trails of northern Arizona, Abe Springer is finding springs as a professor of hydrogeology and ecohydrology in the School of Earth and Sustainability at Northern Arizona University. He enjoys running on his surgically reconstructed knee with TRF, NATRA and the Flagstaff Summer Series.

Do you have a column, tip or idea for High Country Running? Run it over to coordinating editor Julie Hammonds at runner@juliehammonds.com, or tweet her @highcountry_run.

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