September 7, 2006

Ten Questions With Brad Baird

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After giving senior captain Brad Baird of the men’s cross country team a run for his money, Paul Testa came down with a sever case of footstrike anemia.

1. How is cross country different, from say a sport like football, in terms of the kind of athlete/masochist it takes to be successful?

I certainly feel that on a Division-I level you have to be hard working, especially in the Ivy League. It’s really tough and really demanding, and like you said, I think you have to be somewhat masochistic because what other sports do for punishment, we do every day.

You’re stealing my questions here. So, how does your coach punish your team? Is he like “go chase a soccer ball, or shoot some free thows?” Or is it just go run some more?

Usually, we just do workouts a few times a week. We run every day, and do workouts every other day. It’s all relative, but usually, there’s a plan building up to the race. As the season progresses, it just gets harder and harder, and you’re suppose to go faster and faster.

But don’t you have to balance that with a concern for stamina and not burning guys out too early in the season?

What they say about cross country is that it’s a sport that’s done in the summer, and it’s played out in the fall. Summer is the most important part of cross country. If you don’t run in the summer, you can’t expect to hit the season and be running well. You get base in the summer, and you just hope to gradually get faster. I think the end of November, or maybe the beginning of November — when we have regionals — that’s when we want to be our fastest, to qualify for nationals.

So, how was your summer?

My summer was great. In the past, I didn’t really train exactly like I should have, but this summer was a great summer.

2. What’s it like at the starting line of meet, with hundreds of glory-hungry runners pushing, elbowing, and digging their spikes into that one schmuck unlucky enough to trip at the start?

For cross country, it’s really crazy because the distance you’re traveling is five miles, or in championship races it’s usually a 10k, which is 6.2 miles. With so many guys on the line, especially at invitationals, you’ll catch an elbow. You’ll get spiked; you’ll look down at the end of the race and you’ll notice you’re bleeding. It’s crazy.
Are these things intentional?

Sometimes it’s intentional. If you can get away with something in the woods — I mean it happens.

Has it happened to you?

Oh yeah. I mean, I’m a little guy. You’re throwing elbows, and if I get something, I’ll throw something back. It’s a pretty rough sport.

3. Do you find there’s more of sense of camaraderie than rivalry between teams because you guys are all going through that same extreme pain of a race?

I think it’s a mix of both. The rivalries are big time in the Ivy League. Our championship is called the Heptagonals, and we really stress running well there. It’s kind of a big deal here.

With a little more success in the track and field portion of Heps?

We’re trying to bring that back in cross country. We haven’t had as much success on grass as we’ve had on the track. Princeton’s a big rival, of course, across the board.

Is there trash talking on the course, or is it just a waste of breath?

Trash talking, I’m really not into that. I just know I want to go out there and beat your ass. I think lots of guys are like that. I think you notice with the really good guys, they just go out there and do their thing, and they don’t give a shit, like whatever people are saying or whatever’s going on around them. But I’m definitely going to have motivation if Princeton is standing on the starting line next to me. I definitely want to beat them up, more than, I don’t know, say Harvard.
Harvard sucks?

[Chuckles]Yeah, Harvard sucks.

4. How’s the team look this year, with the loss of Bruce Hyde ’06 to graduation and a few runners deciding not to return?

I think this is going to be the best team that we’ve had since the early ’90s.

Seriously?

The only guy we lost in our top-7 was Bruce — obviously a big loss — but we have an abundance of talent; we have a lot of guys from last year who are a lot better, and we all just worked really hard this summer. I think it will definitely be the best team that we’ve had in while.

When you’re out there on the course, is it more of a pack mentality, no man left behind, or is it that you’re focused on yourself and your individual performance.

It’s a little bit of both. I think this year, for the first time, we really focused on running as a group, training as a group. We really do have a bunch of guys that could really do something this year. But once the race hits, at a certain point, you do have to run for yourself. But it’s a great team sport and we’re really stressing that group aspect this year
Do you guys notice the scenery when you’re running, or is too hard when you’re about to pass out from oxygen deprivation?

I think it always depends, but sometimes it becomes an addiction. You’ve heard of the runners high?

Yeah, but I didn’t inhale.

We’ll just be out on a run in the summer, and it just hits you, and then last few minutes of the race, and when you finish the race, it’s the best feeling ever. I mean I can’t go long without running. I have in the past because I’m an idiot. I had some bad training sessions, but I mean I get headaches sometimes from not running.

[img_assist|nid=18129|title=On the hot seat|desc=This weeks 10 Questions victim, Cross Countrys Brad Baird|link=popup|align=left|width=51|height=100]

5. I’ve seen you guys running like everywhere around campus, and the question is, does running shirtless really make you go faster?

[Mild laughter]

Because if so, I think this a policy that should maybe be made mandatory for the women’s team.

[Giggling] Hey, there are some good looking track girls out there.
We’ll get to that for later.

No, um, I guess we just try and enjoy it here, because I mean, Jesus, it gets so fricking cold here. We come here in the summer, and Cornell in the summer is gorgeous —

Someone should make some sort of tee-shirt…

When you warm up, you want to wear some clothes, but once you’re in the workout, running, you strip everything off, because you overheat. I’ve had some bad experiences wearing too many clothes.
Three-piece suits are surprisingly hard to run in. So you would run naked if you could?

[Thoughtful pause] We probably would. Yeah, we probably would because we’re just like savages running all over campus.

Tell me about the bonding that goes on within the team, because you spend a lot of time with same bunch of sweaty, smelly guys.

Like you mentioned before, there’s a good camaraderie among the team. Among team runners, we’re going through the same pain, the same hard work. So we all come together for a race and it just feels amazing. We just share the same feelings, we know what each other’s going through, and we respect one another. We’ve got some crazy kids out here who know so much about running it’s just unbelievable.
Like who? Lay some knowledge on me.

[Junior] Sage Canaday is crazy. You could sit down with this kid, and he could talk about running for five hours straight. You ask him any question, about anything and he’ll know.

Must be fun to sit next to on the bus to Heps.

His favorite thing to talk about is footstrike anemia

What?

Footstrike anemia.

What?

Yeah, who knows, but it’s great when you get to sit there and listen to him talk, but then eventually … [Pauses abruptly] Yeah, he’s a great guy though.

6. Tell me about your head coach, Nathan Taylor — a good guy who’s done amazing things with the program here at Cornell — but what I want to know is whether his bio on CornellBigRed.com can be considered a novella or just a short story?

He deserves it. He deserves it.

Quit sucking up. Nobody reads this rag anyway.

No, no, trust me, we have a special relationship. He’s actually the one who recruited me in the beginning. [Assistant] coach Robert Johnson is our distance coach, but I didn’t meet coach Johnson till maybe my fourth or fifth visit.

Took a while to get your RoJo on?

Haha, yeah. In the beginning, I just walked around with coach Taylor, and since freshman year, the jokes just fly back and forth. We take jabs at each other, but usually, his jabs are much stronger than mine. It’s an inside thing between us, but he’s a great guy; he’s amazing.
I hear you do a pretty good coach Taylor impression.

Oh wow… that’s good stuff.

I do my research man.

Well, the infamous line that came about when it all started was that I was a real scrub freshman year and didn’t really run a lot. Have you ever heard of the steeplechase.

Isn’t that for horses?

Okay, so, I had just got done with the steeplechase. I had bagged the race. I knew I did. I was an idiot. And the next day, [Taylor] saw me, and he just came out and basically told me this now famous line: “You just don’t give a shit.”

Classic.

Taylor, he’s like our idol, inspiration, you name it. It’s all fun though, because we love the guy. If you’ve had a bad race — which happens, runners don’t run perfect all the time — he’s the guy to let you know how poor you ran. He’s always there.

7. You mentioned the steeplechase. Is that like the cross country of track and field?

Yeah, I kind of like to think it’s cross country on the track. I think you have to be somewhat idiotic to do it, but I love it. It breaks the monotony of running around in circles like an idiot for 20-some laps.
Those barriers don’t exactly fall down.

No they don’t. You hit it. They don’t move. I had a bad experience last year where someone pushed me.

Jesus.

I thought it was pretty intentional too. [He]pushed me on the shoulder. It was at the IC4A meet last year.

Who? Give me a name. No one pushes Brad Baird around and gets away with it.

I think it was a guy from Columbia, because I looked at the photos. I’d just run the Ivy League championships a week before that.

That’s bullshit. Columbia’s track team is dead to me.

He pushed me right before the barrier. My ankle went basically horizontal to the track. I had to climb over the barrier. I tried to keep going, but I had to stop.

That’s intense.

I love it though because it is so intense. It’s not exactly a glamour event and it just hurts, but I like it.

8. Alright, you probably saw this question coming, but can I call you Axel?

You could, you could, I get lot’s of nicknames.

Because I think you probably have better hair than most of the girls on the women’s team.

Yeah, I get that a lot.

OK, OK, Goldilocks, don’t cry in your porridge. I have an offer for you — a deal to make. I have with me, an electric razor, a clean Gillete Mach 3 Turbo razor, and some shaving cream, oh, and some scissors.
You’ve done your research.

You let me cut your hair and I’ll put cross country front and center on the Fall Sports Supplement cover.

How much hair do you get to cut?

Well, you see the razor, right? Here’s what I was thinking. I’m doing this for you. I was thinking mullet, with like lightning bolts in the side. If you want, I’ll drive you to Newfield and pay for an experienced mulleteer to do it for you. Lighting bolts on the side let the other runners know: “Watchout, badass coming through” and the long back gives you like an aerodynamic spoiler effect.

[Pondering] That’s a crazy idea.

And like, on the supplement cover, we could do a Samson-like thing, with you like holding your shorn golden locks in clenched fists, looking towards the sky.

So you want like it shaved on the sides?

I want like hardcore, Chicago White Sox fan mullet.

You know, as much as I love cross country, the hairs been with me since sophomore year of high school. It’s really tough. It’s part of me; it’s who I am. It is my strength. I’m like Samson, you cut my hair, and I lose all my power.

First of all, last I checked you didn’t have to slay any lions in cross country, second, I think your real reason is that you scared to let someone other than your stylist touch your hair.

I could give you a lock. But actually, I just don’t trust you.

Neither would I. Why sophomore year of high school?

I guess I was just feeling kind of wild. I don know, people kept saying: “Brad grow your hair long. Brad grow your hair long” and I’m like “No, no.”

That’s probably the silliest high school dilemma I’ve ever heard.

Then, my mom was like :“You have really nice hair, why don’t you just let it grow?” It always used to get to a certain point, and then I’d just chop it off. I was actually a normal hair guy for a while. Then I just let it go, and then people just started calling me “Sunshine” and “Tarzan,” you name it.

Would you consider yourself the Prefontaine of the Cornell running scene?

I guess because I’m all Seventies.

You rock the short shorts.

Yeah, and I’ve got the hair.

You know what you need? Mustache.

You think so?

Would you do that? Because we can talk about that cover.

You have to give me a few days to work on it.

9. So, um, how do I phrase this without getting slapped. Could you take your shirt off?

[Skeptically] Yeah?

Yeah, for the ladies.

[Librarian in Uris Library drops pile of books, as Baird takes off his shirt revealing two lion tattoos, one on each shoulder]

Wow, two lions. That one on your left shoulder looks more like Thuder Cats, comic booky.

That’s the second one I got. I definitely like that one more. I just saw it somewhere and said to myself, “This is badass. I have to get it.”

Why lions?

First of all, lions are just badass. I just —

I beg to differ sir, they’re big lazy cats.

They’re the kings of the jungle.

But they live in the Savannah.

Have you ever seen Pride of the Lions on the Discovery Channel. They will mess you up.

I dunno. The only time I’ve ever seen lions, the men are just kickin it, and the women are like sauntering around all sassy like.

Yeah, I’ll tell you about that. I had that idea too for a while, but then I watched this show, and the men, just sit back and chill and let there lives take care of the little stuff.

Sweet.

But the big guys, when the big game comes out, the males are out there, and I’ve seen them in action. They’re crazy. Plus they’ve got the mane.

Dude, 10 Questions is turning into the Discovery Channel.

10. What’s the hottest women’s team at Cornell?

Women’s track. Hands down.

Wow, no doubt, no hesitation there.

No way.

I guess you see these girls every day, running around in their underwear.

They’re fit, they’re fast and they’re hot. You can’t beat it. You can’t beat that.

I certainly couldn’t. I think most of the male 10Q-veterans would agree with you on that one. Any event particularly hotter than the rest?

I think the steeple is just a hot event. If you’re crazy enough to do that, I respect you and you’re hot.

Ten Questions with Paul Testa will appear every Thursday, or until he gets mauled by an angry pride of lions. Suggestions can be sent to pft4@cornell.edu.