It’s not simply about running up the hill. It’s about running over the top of the hill.
This is the sentiment Chris Miltenberg, UNC's director of track and field and cross country, shares with the men's cross country team often. Every practice the Tar Heels are expected to understand the distinction – succumb to the difficulty or take it in stride.
On Friday, UNC traveled to Florida for the ACC Championships, where the Tar Heels took home first place as a team and junior Parker Wolfe won the individual title. It was the men's cross country team's first ACC title since 1985 and the first time that a Tar Heel individual has taken home the gold since 1997.
Getting to this point has been a steep battle in itself — one that Miltenberg has worked to mount over his last five seasons leading the team.
In his first year as head coach, the men's team came tenth in the ACC, then ninth the next year. In 2021 they were fourth, and last year, the team placed third, missing second by one point.
"And it’s been this exciting, steady evolution to climb our way up to a win," Miltenberg said.
Despite all the talk about facing inclines, the 8K trail at the Apalachee Regional Park is surprisingly flat. There is only one major hill, though runners have to scale it three times.
Even with the flat terrain, the Tar Heels talked about and prepared for the hill all week. Questions of where to get the best surges and how to set the pace consumed the team, especially Wolfe.
Last year, Wolfe finished second at the ACC Championships by a margin of less than half a second. Wolfe entered the last 500 meters a full stride in front of Notre Dame’s Carter Solomon, however, Solomon overtook Wolfe after the final hill.