Ainsley Jacobs breaks 18-year-old school record in the 5000-meter run

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Jacobs did not begin running competitively until the end of her junior year in high school. (Photo courtesy of Ainsley Jacobs ’21)

Craig Barbaro

In a year dominated by negative headlines and cancellations due to COVID-19, senior cross country runner Ainsley Jacobs found her way into the Lafayette record books.

Jacobs broke the all-time school record for the 5000-meter run this past weekend in the Bucknell Quad meet with a time of 17:03.14. The previous record for the event was 17:08.44 and was set in the 2003 season by Rian Landers ’03.

“Breaking the record was definitely on my mind,” Jacobs said. “The cross country league meet was at Lehigh earlier in the season and that was a road race. At that race, I ran a 6K and I went through the 5K at 17:13, so I thought if I could run 17:13 on the road and continue at that pace for an additional 1000 meters, I could break the 5K record.”

Jacobs earned Patriot League Women’s Track Athlete of the Week honors for her record-breaking performance and first-place finish in the event. The next closest runner finished 13 seconds after her.

Jacob’s historic performance rubbed off on some of the other Leopard runners too. Junior Autumn Sands (third, 17:22), and sophomores Rachel Hurley (fifth, 17:24), Becky Hartman (sixth, 17:27) and Dannah Javens (seventh, 17:34) all placed in the top 10 in the event and etched their name into the Lafayette all-time record books. Sands is now third all-time in school history in the 5000-meter run, Hurley sixth, Hartman seventh and Javens 10th.

On the men’s side, junior Austin Barry (fourth, 14:44) and senior Michael Neeson (seventh, 14:51) also earned spots on the Lafayette all-time top-10 lists. Barry now holds the sixth fastest time in school history in the 5000-meter run, while Neeson holds the 10th best time.

Jacobs is no stranger to the Lafayette record books. She has always performed well in the 10,000-meter run and cemented her place in the school’s all-time top-10 list with her 10K time during her sophomore year.

“I can’t say for sure whether the 5K is [my] best event,” Jacobs said with a chuckle. “Coming into college I felt the 10K was my best event but I only had one chance to run it my sophomore year at Patriot Leagues…As of now, I’m not sure, it could be the 5K or 10K. I will be running both events at Patriot Leagues this year so we will see which is subjectively better.”

While Jacobs has found success on the collegiate stage, her running career did not get started as early as one might think. As a three-sport athlete throughout high school, Jacobs did not begin running competitively until the end of her junior year when her friends decided they wanted to run instead of playing lacrosse.

“I was very much a late bloomer,” Jacobs said. “I played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse up until my junior year of high school and then in my junior year of high school I quit basketball because it was the most time-consuming and soccer was my main sport. At that point, I also began to train for a half marathon on my own. During my junior year as lacrosse season was about to begin, a few of my friends said they were going to do track, [and] because I had begun training for the half marathon I agreed to run as well.”

What makes Jacobs’s new school record even more impressive is the fact she did it without being paced. Not many people running this past weekend had a time remotely close to hers and the rabbit, a girl who paces the first half of the race, had been contact traced earlier in the week so Jacobs was on her own entirely.

“Once I saw there wouldn’t be anyone running the time I wanted to run, I realized that was an additional obstacle,” Jacobs said. “I underestimated how difficult it would be because when running at such a fast pace it becomes more difficult to pace yourself. I listened to my coach and my body and was able to get through it.”

Although the coronavirus has negatively impacted many athletes, the pandemic could not have come at a better time for Jacobs. When schools were shuttered in March of last year, Jacobs was in the midst of recovering from a serious injury that left her on crutches and in a boot. In a typical season, recovery from such an injury would be difficult and the pressure to return might have caused her to rush back. But due to the shutdown, she was able to recover at her own pace and return for this season at full strength.

“I had a lot of motivation to get back into shape,” Jacobs said. “I looked at it as I had more time than ever to recover and come back better…I eased into running and was cautious to not re-injure myself. I eased into running my normal amount of miles. Over quarantine, the best part of my day was getting to go outside and run. It was a great way to escape and I had no problem motivating myself.”

While the pandemic gave Jacobs the time she needed to recover, it has not been easy on the team since they have returned to campus. When they first arrived over winter break, cancellations occurred regularly and all practices were stopped when the school went to operational level three as students returned to campus in February. Another challenge the team has faced is the wearing of masks during many of their organized events. Running is highly taxing on the cardiovascular system and adding a mask makes breathing challenging.

“Coming into the season it was really difficult,” Jacobs recalled. “We had a pause on our training during the interim session due to a rise in cases on other athletics teams at that time…There [were] also a lot of unknowns…It’s still difficult in the sense that we have to constantly watch our numbers and wear masks in a lot of the different things we do for training such as lifting, warming up, or doing drills, but all in all I believe we’ve made the best of the situation and gotten past the more difficult times.”

With the 5000-meter record in her back pocket, Jacobs is turning her attention to the Patriot League Championship which is two short weeks away. Between now and then, Lafayette will host a tri-meet and face Lehigh to finish off the 2021 regular season.

Jacobs, for one, is already looking forward to a shot at breaking more records.

“I feel like the whole team has done well and I’m really looking forward to leagues because I’m excited to get into that competitive environment and running the races I know I’m good at and that I’m more suited to do,” she said. “I definitely think I’ll have the opportunity to find my full potential at leagues.”