The training wheels are coming off this weekend for Penn cross country.

On Saturday, the Quakers will compete in the 40th Annual Paul Short Invitational Meet at Lehigh, one of the toughest collegiate races on the East Coast.

The race will be the first long-distance challenge for the Quakers, as the men and women will compete in 8 and 6 kilometer races, respectively.

Penn’s runners, such as senior Chelsea Delaney, are eagerly anticipating the challenge.

“It feels great to be going into our first real challenge of the year.” she said. “These last few races have just been tune ups, and now it is really time to see where we are.”

The Red and Blue will truly be able to treat this weekend’s race as a barometer for the rest of the season. In addition to facing Ivy rivals such as Harvard, Columbia and Dartmouth, Penn will be joined in the top bracket by over 40 schools, including top regional teams like Georgetown, Penn State and Villanova.

While the competition will be intense on the Bethlehem course, the runners themselves have high hopes and expectations.

“I think we are a much better team than we were last year,” sophomore Thomas Awad said. “Last year we finished in seventh in the Ivy League, but that gap has really come down this year. It will be good to see just how much of a gap there is on Saturday.”

The men’s team will compete in the top division this year, after easily winning the second-division race back in 2012. While it is unlikely that Penn will be able to repeat this feat against the likes of Cornell and Georgetown, expectations are still high for Penn to demonstrate that it can compete at a high level.

“I looked it up, and last year 260 points was good for sixth place at Paul Short,” Awad said. “If I did my mediocre math right, I think that is something that is definitely within our reach.”

The women’s team is coming in with equally lofty goals for itself.

“No one has come out and said it, but I think there is an unspoken goal of trying to be a top five team,” Delaney said. “At minimum we want to definitely improve on last year’s times, and I think with the girls that we have that is something we can easily do.”

In the past two races, the mantra for the Quakers has been “work as a team, finish together.” This week, however, coach Steve Dolan appears to be willing to loosen the reins on his runners.

“We were told that we should try to work together for the first mile, but after that, I think we are going to step it up and see if we can get some runners in the low numbers,” Awad said.

“While we want to do as much as we can to help our teammates succeed, we also want to make sure we have girls in positions to run for top spots as well,” Delaney added.

Top spot or not at Paul Short on Saturday, the Quakers will know how far they have come.

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