Hamill Leaving X-Country, Track Competition In The Dust

September 8, 2003 

AMHERST, MA - The pile of worn-out running shoes in the far corner of Carter Hamill's dorm room is the lone evidence that one of the best, brightest and most unassuming collegiate distance runners in the nation lives there. No medals or All-America certificates adorn her walls, only the minimountain of identical pairs of spent New Balance, which serves as an unintentional shrine to the hundreds of miles she's logged on the tracks, trails and roads of Amherst. "I just feel kind of bad throwing them out," she says, showing more sympathy for her deceased sneakers than she does for opposing runners. 

After only two years at Amherst, Hamill is already an eight-time All-American, twice in cross-country and three times each in indoor and outdoor track, and owns more school records than the college's Department of Archives and Special Collections. During her freshman year alone she carried Amherst to a seventh-place finish at the NCAA Cross-Country Championships, won a national title in the 5k at the NCAA Indoor Track Championships in a then-school-record time of 17:11.93 and finished third in the NCAA Outdoor 5k at a blazing 16:56.92 clip, yet another Amherst record. 

Her sophomore efforts were equally, if not more, impressive: 10th at cross-country nationals, the best finish by an Amherst woman since 1985; sixth in the NCAA indoor 5k, lowering her own school record by more than two seconds; seventh in the NCAA indoor distance medley relay (DMR), running the anchor leg en route to a school-record 11:58.68; fifth in the 10k and fourth in the 5k at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, shattering two more school records and nabbing her seventh and eighth All-America awards. 

Her athletic accomplishments are already mind-boggling - All-America finishes in each of eight appearances in national championship events, nine school records, six team MVP awards and countless All-Conference, All-District and All-New England accolades-all before her 20th birthday. Ninth-year head coach Erik Nedeau, himself a world-class runner and a bronze medallist at the 1995 World Championships, calls Hamill, "by far the best woman I've coached, without a doubt." 

Standing just 5-foot-4, the diminutive Hamill didn't even run track until her junior year at the Collegiate School in Richmond, Va., eschewing the sport in favor of swimming and lacrosse. But she was a two-time Virginia state champion in cross-country, and the dominant manner in which she won her races peaked Nedeau's attention. "By the end of her senior year she had run 18:30 or 18:45 in cross country, but every time she ran she won by a minute or more," Nedeau remembers. "That's what most impressed me, not her times but the amount by which she was winning. Her high school coach said she was fairly new to track. To me that meant she had a lot of untapped potential." 

Nedeau was right. After trailing a trio of more experienced teammates in her collegiate debut, the 2001 Amherst Cross-Country Invitational, Hamill has been the top Amherst finisher in every cross-country meet since, a string of 19 consecutive outings, and counting. During her inaugural indoor track campaign, she smashed at least one school record in six different meets and surprised everyone by claiming the college's fourth-ever national championship, winning the NCAA indoor 5k as a freshman, which is almost unheard of. The national title remains her crowning achievement, but she's continued to wow track observers ever since. Before attempting to defend her indoor 5k title as a sophomore, Hamill ran a blistering one-mile anchor leg on the college's distance medley relay team, breaking a school record and leading the team to a seventh-place national finish. "And she isn't even a miler," says teammate Kate Hamill '03 (no relation) of Carter Hamill's performance in the DMR. "She's almost strictly a distance, 5k, 10k runner, and she doesn't really like running the mile, but she ran a great one to get us to nationals. She put herself back a little bit for the 5k, but she did it for the team. That says a lot about Carter as a person and as a teammate." 

As if that weren't enough, Hamill doubled her pleasure again at the 2003 outdoor championships, finishing in the top five in both the 10k and the 5k and single-handedly leading the Jeffs to a 24th place team finish, despite the fact that she was Amherst's lone representative. She ran the eighth fastest 5k (16:45.06) in the history of NCAA Division III and the 10th fastest 10k (34:42.03), and her best running appears to be ahead of her. "From a coaching standpoint, one thing I don't really do is expect," says Nedeau. "The kids themselves like to place expectations. But of the runners in front of Carter at nationals in the 5k, two were seniors, and in the 10k, three were seniors, and she knows that. The times she's running now are much quicker than the times the others ran when they were sophomores." 

In general, the women have stepped up their performance in track an incredible amount over the past few years. Amherst has had some excellent distance runners who were historically dominant, but their times wouldn't even qualify for nationals now. Hamill is part of a new wave of Division III runners who realize they don't have to go to a Division I school to be competitive. They can go to a Division III, compete, and still be something other than a runner. "The balance here is just right for me," says Hamill, a psychology major. "Meets are always on Saturday and I've been pretty good about budgeting my time. I think it actually helps having practice in the afternoon and then having a certain amount of time to get your work done. It adds structure to your daily routine." 

Keeping Hamill's training at a manageable level, guarding against injury and burnout, has been a joint effort, and Hamill is unwavering in her trust of Nedeau's expertise. Nedeau, in turn, is adamant about enforcing breaks between seasons and says that the ultimate goal is to strategically build her training so her performances peak at just the right time. "Don't worry about now, worry about what's going to happen in five weeks," Nedeau preaches. "As we continue to increase our training, it's important to keep instilling that 'Hey, it's the end of the season that we focus on and there are going to be some rough patches.' That's the joy of running. You sometimes have to slide down a little bit before you can rise up." 

Nevertheless, it's quite common for Hamill to run anywhere from 10 to 14 miles a day, supplementing her practices with weight training, pool workouts and cardio sessions on an exercise bike. Despite her considerable success, Hamill remains one of the most humble, inconspicuous superstars you'll ever meet. "She's awesome, a really down-to-earth person," Nedeau raves. "She looks like she'd be a really good runner, but you wouldn't know it by talking with her. We'll talk about her running, but she hardly ever talks about it with other people. Running is important to her, but it doesn't define her. Her attitude is, 'I'm a runner, but I'm also a student.' "