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Penn Relays 2010 Credit: Michelle Bigony

Mark Twain wrote that familiarity breeds contempt, but the Penn men’s and women’s cross country teams disagree.

Because even after more than 10 visits to Van Cortlandt Park in the last four years, the Penn team isn’t familiar enough with the racecourse that they feel what Twain preached.

Despite the three annual trips that the Quakers take to the Bronx, the nearly 1200-acre park is under construction so often that it is rare for either team to run the same course twice.

Thus, no contempt for the Red and Blue, who race at Van Cortlandt twice at the beginning of the season in preparation for their final run at Heptagonals Championships.

“We get to try out different methods of racing and going out at different paces and things like that and we’re pretty much prepared for whatever kind of race we’re going to be presented with by the time Heps roll around,” sophomore Leslie Kovach said.

Women’s coach Gwen Harris prefers to use the first two meets — last week’s Fordham Fiasco, where the Quakers finished first, and this Saturday’s Iona Meet of Champions — to experiment with different racing strategies.

Last week, the women’s team ran the majority of the race as a group and kicked it to the finish.

But because Saturday’s meet will bring new, more challenging competition, Harris says that her strategy is “going to be a little bit more tactical,” with Penn’s faster runners leading the pack.

Maybe the Quakers have their own definition of Twain’s famous phrase: familiarity breeds confidence.

“When you’re familiar with a course — especially a tough course like Van Cortlandt, you come into it with a little more confidence knowing that you know the course really well,” said senior Chris Baird.

And such familiarity creates a physical and mental advantage for teams like the Quakers.

“It’s a mental thing and a relaxing thing,” Harris said. “The course might be just a tad different, but the back hills won’t be — the back hills will be the same. [At Heps,] it’s like, ‘okay, I’ve done this before. I know how to do this.’”

Kovach and Baird also commented on the advantages of knowing a race course, including feeling calm and secure with their surroundings.

The Red and Blue use these early season meets to learn the course, and the constant changes allow them experience in all possible stages of the route.

“We kind of learn to use different areas of the course to our advantage where we can, and being familiar with the course is definitely an advantage when we strategize in that way,” Kovach said.

Thus, each visit to Van Cortlandt brings a new challenge.

“It definitely changes the tactics and how you approach the race,” Baird said.

For now, the Quakers are confident — not contemptuous.

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