At Amherst, Shauneen Garrahan has become one of the nation's top runners.

The Leader of the Pack: Shauneen Garrahan '07
By Rebecca Binder '02, Special Assistant to Sports Information

November 8 , 2006

Shauneen Garrahan came to Amherst as a Girl Who Could Run Fast.

Now, though, as a senior standout on the track team and co-captain of the women’s cross country team, she’s a Runner - and there’s a huge difference between the two.

“Running can seem so simple, but it’s much more than just one foot in front of the other,” Garrahan said. “I’ve learned 99 percent of what I know about running here. And I’m still learning all the small things that really matter.”

Garrahan didn’t start running until her junior year of high school in Fairfax Station, Va. She ran indoor track that winter to get in shape for her upcoming soccer season, and she never really looked back. “After my first race, I was hooked,” she remembered. “It was so exciting. The next fall, I followed my gut and decided to run cross country.”

Garrahan’s gut was on to something: despite a senior fall punctuated by the Beltway-area sniper shootings, which limited Garrahan’s team’s ability to travel, practice, or run outside, she trained for and placed 20th in the 2002 Foot Locker Cross Country South Championship. “That was the first time I really trained and committed myself to running well,” she said, “and I kept improving the rest of my senior year - it’s amazing, when you just concentrate on running, how much you can improve.”

“Shauneen was a late bloomer from a running standpoint, and I thought that was very exciting,” Amherst men’s and women’s cross country and track head coach Erik “Ned” Nedeau explained. “She had a lot of momentum when she got here, and she hadn’t plateaued yet; she still had somewhere to go.” Garrahan came into the program - led by Amherst legend, 18-time All-America selection Carter Hamill ’05 and Aly Venti ’04 - with modest expectations. “I just wanted to make varsity,” she laughed, “but from the first meet on, I was our third runner, along with Aly and Carter.”

Garrahan definitely deserved her spot - in her first-year cross country season, she earned All-America honors at the NCAA Championships, as well as All-New England and First Team All-NESCAC nods. She followed that up with a third-place finish in the 5,000-meter race at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships that spring, breaking five school records in as many meets along the way. Her accolades repeated themselves during her sophomore year cross country campaign: again, she earned All-America, All-New England and All-NESCAC spots. She won the national title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in the spring, and picked up yet another All-America designation.

Heading into her junior campaign, though, things changed.

Venti and Hamill had graduated, and Garrahan suddenly found herself in a new, uncomfortable position. “It used to be so easy for me,” she said. “Whether it was a workout or a race, all I had to do was follow Aly and Carter. When they both left, I had to adjust. Your body can only handle so much - you have to find a balance between pushing yourself all out and not, and without having Carter and Aly to follow, I started to question myself: Am I running too easy? Should I push harder? And when in doubt, I pushed myself to the limit. At the time, I thought it was the way to get better, but in retrospect, I burned my body out and got injured. That was really hard.”

Nedeau noticed a change, too. “Suddenly she was top dog, and she was responsible for paces, and for pushing herself and her teammates,” he explained. “She had to learn to come out of the shadows and be a leader.”

Granted, what constitutes a slip for Garrahan constitutes almost anyone else’s dream season: she won the cross country team’s season-opening Amherst Invite and the Tufts University Invite, before placing third at Open New Englands and second at NESCACs. Things took a turn for the worse, though: Garrahan developed a stress fracture, and struggled through the district and national championship meets. “It was a disappointing year for me, but still - I got to nationals all three seasons, so I can’t really complain about that,” she said. “It was just tough because I had such high expectations after running well at the beginning of the season. Then I got knocked out a good three months without running at all.” Garrahan managed to anchor the women’s indoor track distance medley relay team to a ninth-place showing at Nationals, but she didn’t feel comfortable through most of the outdoor season.

This year, though, the Girl Who Could Run Fast finally became a Runner. “I’ve tried to approach this season learning from last year,” she said. “Over the summer I really concentrated on listening to my body - I didn’t push every run, and I’ve reminded myself that the only race that really matters is Nationals. I’ve learned how to pace myself; I’ve done more cross-training and weight lifting; and I’ve even made changes to my diet.” So far, Garrahan’s new, more cerebral outlook’s paid off: she won the Amherst Invite, placed second at UMass-Dartmouth and Tufts, and finished fourth at Open New Englands. Amherst, meanwhile, won the Little Three Championship and, for the first time in program history, the NESCAC Championships.

And, Garrahan the Runner’s not done yet - not by a longshot. “The national championship’s definitely on our minds,” she revealed. “We’ve done the hard work; we’ve done the training. If we race with heart, and race for each other, I don’t see why we can’t win."