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Kristen Koch doesn't consider herself a runner, but she could sure fool most people. The sophomore from Niskayuna, N.Y., is one of the leaders on a surprising Penn women's cross country team that has improved by leaps and bounds this season. She never ran cross country before. Last year, she did not even play any sports. On a team with two former figure skaters, she is not that rare of a case. Koch did run track in high school, where she specialized in distance events. "I grew up playing soccer," Koch said. "I ran to stay in shape for soccer." As a freshman, Koch simply decided not to play any sports at Penn. She missed athletic competition, however, and toyed with the idea of running cross country the next fall. "I saw the team running and I thought, OI can do that,'" Koch said. "I talked to Betty [Costanza, the Penn women's track coach] and decided to try out." Koch's instinct was correct -- she can do this. This fall, she has finished first on the team in two races and has been among the top three Penn finishers in every race this year. She was third overall and first on the Quakers in her first-ever cross country race at the Lafayette Invitational on September 9. "It's been really exciting," Koch said. "I love the team." Over the summer, Koch ran the workout schedule usually given to incoming freshmen -- lots of long distance running to build a base, with some lifting as well. "I figured the worst-case scenario was that I'd get into really good shape," Koch said. Koch said that it is tough at times because she is a little inexperienced, having only run in five competitive races. "The advantage of being new is that I don't know my limitations, and I'm always improving," Koch added. The Quakers, who compete at Heptagonal Championships on Friday at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, are hoping that Koch can help lead them to improve on last year's finish -- a dismal last place. "I like the team aspect of cross country," Koch said. "We have a lot of fun inside and outside practice and get along well, which is really difficult." Koch says that the experience of running still seems totally new to her, even after months of training. "Soccer was always the No. 1 sport for me, and I wasn't a runner," Koch said. "I mean, I still don't consider myself as one." Like many runners, Koch professes that running is very tough, yet she still loves it. "I enjoy it," Koch said. "Hopefully, after Friday I'll like it even more." Maybe if the Quakers' surprising season draws to an impressive close at Heps, Koch may finally begin to consider herself a runner.

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