Running too fast may not seem like an obstacle for a cross-country athlete, but for junior Ali Dokus, this problem has already cost her a victory this season.
Dokus took an early lead at Emerson’s first meet of year, the Mass Maritime Invitational on Sept. 7, but after running too far ahead of her competition, Dokus — who donned her trademark purple shoes — took a wrong turn and finished eighth.
“We usually go into a course with an individual strategy for [Ali],” said John Furey, head coach of both the men’s and women’s cross-country teams. “For certain courses we tell her to slow down and run with a pack just to make sure she doesn’t get lost.”
Six days after her opening race mishap, Dokus competed in the Daniel Webster Invitational 5K in Nashua, N.H. This meet had a very different ending.
Dokus, a junior writing, literature, and publishing major from Littleton, Mass., secured her first collegiate win and helped Emerson finish second as a team, coming in with a time of 20 minutes and 35 seconds, a full 11 seconds ahead of the next -closest runner.
“I really want to get into the 19-minute realm for the 5K races,” Dokus said regarding her goals for this season. “It felt really good [to win at Daniel Webster]; it felt like justice. I worked really hard this summer and it was nice to see that pay off.”
Furey said he knows his team will face tougher competition in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, but said he’s confident the hard-working Dokus, who finished fifth in last year’s Greater Northeastern Athletic Conference Championship, will be a top contender.
“[Dokus] has improved tremendously each year,” said Furey as he watched Dokus sprint around the Boston Common softball fields at a 7 a.m. practice last Thursday. “She’s a grinder, a fighter and really mentally tough. We haven’t run a course this year that has shown me really how fast she is. [Dokus] will probably be top ten in the NEWMAC this year.”
According to Furey, a top NEWMAC runner will finish a 5K race — roughly 3.1 miles — in 18 to 19.5 minutes.
Furey said Dokus’ all-around performance this fall has been impressive, but especially so during interval training, which involves several sprints in succession that vary in length and gradient. The Lions run intervals every Tuesday and Thursday morning soon after sunrise on Boston Common, sprinting on the dimly lit, dew-covered grass.
“We run flats to hills, two 800 or 1,000-meter intervals… and 2,000-meter intervals,” said Furey, who has been head coach since 2003. “These runs get longer and harder over the course of the year. They’re important because they build on the continuum of strength, stamina, and mental toughness.”
During each of the intervals, which total over 4,000 meters in just over 45 minutes, the blonde-haired, 5-foot-6 Dokus set the pace for her teammates.
“[Dokus] pushes everyone the hardest, but she does it all with a smile on her face,” said junior teammate Leeanne Dillmann. “She is a great teammate.”
Even though Dokus’ training is relentless, she describes running as therapeutic.
“It’s my thinking time,” Dokus said. “I would be angry after working at Subway all day and then I would just start running.”
Furey said his team’s strong start to the season, led by Dokus, has been uplifting after graduating former Emerson standouts Heather Hoglund and Lauren Cortizo.
“We have a big female roster this year, and with Ali it’s a really good team,” said senior co-captain Megan Seabaugh. “Ali is always really ready to go and seems cheerful.”
Dokus, who said she wants to be a college professor when she graduates, said that as the season progresses, she needs to work on her stress level before a race.
“I get really nervous because you know going into it that it is going to be painful either way,” said Dokus. “But I’ll also try not to go too fast.”
The Lions’ next meet will be on Oct. 12 when they travel to St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine for the Runnin’ Monks Invitational.
Dokus, humbled by the twist and turns of the race trail, will try not to get lost.