(photo credit: SNHU Penmen)

Cross Country is a difficult sport that challenges one’s endurance and self-discipline; however, when you have supportive friends and family by your side, the sport becomes less of a challenge and more of a passion.

Senior Tyler McLaren has been running competitive cross country since his sophomore year of high school. He attended Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, New Hampshire where he stood out as a strong runner on the cross-country and outdoor track teams.

McLaren is currently SNHU’s best runner. He has already captured two individual titles this season, one at the Vermont Invitational and the other at the Bruce Kirsh Cup. Last year, he was honored with a U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Region nod for the second straight year, as well as Northeast-10 Conference recognition. As a freshman, McLaren earned two Northeast-10 Rookie of the Week nods, recorded four of the top six 8K times in program history, and was SNHU’s top finisher in five of six events.

Growing up in a family of hockey players, McLaren started running so that he could prepare himself for hockey season. But, because his father ran for a while after college, he began running more competitively, instead of for simply getting in better shape. Since then, McLaren’s love and passion for the sport grew.

When McLaren entered outdoor track season his senior year of high school, he faced a rather painful road block: he tore his ACL, a ligament in the knee. At this point, McLaren was focused on being a runner and hopeful of receiving a college scholarship. Though unfortunate in and of itself, the timing of the injury was profound. This was the time college recruits were looking at athletes, which meant that if he wasn’t running, then recruits were not looking at him.

Luckily, previous head coach of the SNHU Men’s Cross Country team, Joanne Dowe, reached out to him before the injury. She looked over his stats and strongly believed he would be a great asset to the team. McLaren was interested, but feared his injury would affect her final decision. Luckily for him, it didn’t. It just meant he could not train that summer.

McLaren had ambitious goals for getting back on the course. He did anything he could to get into the shape he was in prior to the tear. To do that, he applied the same principles he uses for running into his recovery process, which consisted of “a lot of stretching and a lot of strength work,” McLaren said.

The recovery process for an ACL tear takes approximately six months. For the first four months, McLaren was unable to run, but could stretch and build up his strength. For the remaining two months, McLaren slowly began running again. He paced himself and only ran three miles a day, instead of the usual eight.

McLaren now trains for three hours a day; two hours running and one hour of conditioning. On an average week during the season, he runs upwards of 105 miles. In addition, McLaren maintains a healthy diet, drinks well, and receives a lot of rest to perform at the highest level. McLaren is consistently training and challenging himself to be the best runner he is capable of being. He knows that there is a direct correlation between how much you train and how good you’re going to be.

“I know that if I skip a day or if I am lazy and don’t run, then I’m not going to see myself improve, and I like to see how good I can get,” McLaren said.

When you devote your life to a sport, you are bound to learn a new lesson. For McLaren, cross-country has taught him much self-discipline.

“You have to sacrifice a lot to be good at this sport and a lot that comes with a normal college lifestyle,” McLaren said. “You don’t really see it being worth it until you run a great time, or you PR. There’s definitely those little moments where I say, ‘Wow I didn’t think I would get this far,’ and it’s from all the sacrifices I made. That’s why I do it.”

In McLaren’s eyes, there is no better feeling than being on a college’s team. It’s where he has made all his best friendships, and all his experiences at SNHU have stemmed from it. Because the team is small, everyone is close. McLaren says that his teammates “inspire [him] to do well an [they] work off one another because it is a lot easier to run with someone than by yourself.” To maintain that strong bound, the team gets dinner every night, followed by a late-night study session at the library.

Following graduation, McLaren, who plans on working in the financial analytics business, will continue to follow his passion of running. He wants to tackle some bigger courses, like the Boston and Chicago Marathons. He also is interested in taking on ultras, which are lengthy races, usually between 50 and 100 miles.

Throughout his career, Tyler McLaren has had much success as a cross country runner and will continue to in his future. His determination and devotion to the sport have earned him much more than just titles, such as strength, self-discipline, and ever-lasting friendships.

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