UNC track and field races last lap at Irwin Belk Track
In a running relay, there is a minuscule stretch of track designated as the exchange zone. Just a few strides long, it marks the finite distance in which one leg of the relay can hand off the baton to the next.
North Carolina track and field head coach Harlis Meaders summed up this weekend’s Dennis Craddock Carolina Relays, the last track meet to be held at Irwin Belk Track, as the “exchange zone.” A new multi-sport indoor practice facility is set to replace the track in the coming months.
The track’s final responsibility was to host the first meet of the outdoor season for the budding Tar Heel track team.
The team showed potential through its young athletes. Sophomore Kristin Hall won the 400-meter hurdles in her new collegiate best time of 1:01.71, qualifying for the ACC championships.
A bevy of first-years posted their first and last marks on the track in their collegiate outdoor premiere. Erin Edmundson won the 800-meter run, while Noah Shore out-leaned a competitor to win the mile. Distance runner Connor Peeples, sprinter McKinley McNeill and thrower Daniel McArthur all collected top-five finishes in their debuts.
The meet served as a measuring stick for the team.
“We’ve got some weaknesses and some areas to improve on the track,” Meaders said. “I think we are going to make a concentrated effort ... to just be a better team on the oval.”
Next year, that oval will be off campus at Finley Fields. The soon-to-be-built facility is expected to be an upgrade for the program, but also a big change.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a great track,” redshirt senior thrower Sarah Howard said. “But it won’t be the track that I was on.”
There to witness the final competition was the namesake of the meet itself, Dennis Craddock. Craddock coached at UNC for 28 years, where his cross country and track and field teams picked up 45 ACC championships — more than any other coach in any sport in conference history.
He reminisced on the teams he spent time with on the track.
“I used to kid them,” Craddock said, “It’s such a treasure that they should be out here eating and sleeping on it and not just running track on it.”
After the events ended, athletes, coaches, alumni and fans gathered to walk one ceremonial last lap. And, as is the tradition before the last lap of every race, a bell was rung. James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind” came on over the speakers, and hundreds of feet started the last tread over the Carolina Blue rubber lanes.
While typically the first competitor to finish the final lap gets the glory, on Saturday it was the last. And that honor belonged to Craddock, who took his time meandering the quarter mile curve.
The track may have seen its last day, but the end of the exchange zone only marks the beginning of the next lap. Craddock had some words of hope before handing off the baton to the next era at UNC.
“I hope that anyone that ever ran here, practiced here, competed here, officiated here or coached here will remember that it’s not the facility as much as it is the people you are working with,” Craddock said.