Q&A: Cross country runners reflect on their final NYU season

With a week left until the postseason, two senior runners look back on their time at NYU.


NYU cross country runners Leah Haley and Mubeen Zainul. (Courtesy of NYU Athletics)

Ethan Rendon, Staff Writer

Leah Haley and Mubeen Zainul, two senior runners of NYU’s men’s and women’s cross country teams, reflect on their final season, discuss how New York City affects their training, and share how they performed both individually and as a team in their most recent races at Connecticut College on Oct. 15.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: What does it look like being a leader in a sport that is simultaneously individual and team-oriented like cross country? Who is a leader you look up to and why?

Haley: It is important in a sport like cross country to continue to remind each individual athlete of the overall team goals. We are not just showing up every day for ourselves, but for the teammates we step on the line with.

A leader I look up to is my own sister, Hannah Haley, who also ran for NYU. She always tells me that teammates are not just people that show up and run together, but people that are there for each other in day-to-day life, and the current NYU cross country team reflects that sentiment. 

Zainul: Our goal isn’t to succeed individually, but as a team, so when you’re trying to find something within you to push you to the limit during a race, you think about all the brothers you have in that race with you, and you race for them. 

The best leader we have right now is Ryan Tobin. He’s the definition of gritty and doing all the right things in his life and practice to keep running as his priority.

Saturday was his worst race at NYU. While nearly throwing up on the ground after the race, the first words out of his mouth was an apology to me — funny enough, I was trying to find him to do the same — and our teammates for not being able to perform as good as he normally does.

WSN: You are from more rural areas, Windsor, California, and Horseheads, New York. What are the challenges and benefits of training in a city? How does it affect how you practice and train?

Haley: While the street lights and dodging tourists can be a challenge, running in NYC has shown me so much of the city. 

However, running on soft surfaces is always a priority. We usually leave the city for long runs and head to Columbia Trail in New Jersey, one of my absolute favorite places to run. Having the balance of city life and nature gives us the best of both worlds. 

WSN: What are some memorable traditions or things the team does to build community?

Haley: A girls team tradition that started my freshmen year, and that we hope to have the chance to do again this year, is dying our hair purple for nationals. Even silly things like that help build community and foster a fun environment. 

Zainul: COVID-19 ruined many of the traditions we had as a team, so we’re in the process of rebuilding them. Some have remained, though, like the usual pasta dinners, team hangouts like movie night or a girls team cookie night.

WSN: As seniors, looking back on when you were first-years, what did you expect running at NYU to be like, and how was it different from your expectations?

Zainul: I didn’t expect the devotion I had to this sport to be so big. It’s an integral part of my life, and I hadn’t really anticipated that. I expected it to be less serious and I’m very thankful that it wasn’t. 

WSN: How do you think you did individually and as a team in the Connecticut College Invitational? 

Haley: Individually, I am happy with my performance, but it was not the smoothest of races. I fell in the beginning of the race and banged up my knee, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage. 

As a team, I am thrilled to see our continuous improvement. While every course is different, so it is hard to compare times, each race we have been getting fitter and fitter.

Zainul: This meet was definitely not our best this season. For the first time, we had to experience some of us not having our best days. 

Some of the guys are facing illness, heavier legs from not being able to recover properly, and some couldn’t gauge the pace of the race or didn’t race properly. We aren’t the team we showed ourselves as on Saturday, and we will do better.

Contact Ethan Rendon at [email protected]