By Kyle Daubs

You try running with face masks.

Nick Oakley has big aspirations for his junior season running cross country at Eastern Illinois University. The former all-state runner for Charleston High School was hopeful to finally make all-Ohio Valley Conference and perhaps make a run at the title as a team.

Then, when Eastern Illinois University’s president David Glassman sent an email about wearing a face mask on campus, it certainly threw everything out of whack.

“It’s frustrating to say the least,” said Oakley. “Personally, I’m not too happy about it, but if we have to do it to practice, I’ll do it. I’m just not sure what happens with workouts when we get off campus. Wearing a mask is not feasible while running, especially during speed workouts. In the winter, we wear facemasks and we have to go five minutes on, 15 minutes off.”

Oakley is coming off a successful sophomore season where he was the runner-up at the Bradley Pink Classic White Race with a season best 8K time of 25:20.6. He placed 29th overall at the OVC Championships with a time of 25:56.6, which was 26 seconds from joining his teammates as an all-conference selection.

“My freshman year was great, and then last year I had a stress fracture late in the summer, but I ran in the season,” said Oakley. “I was pretty pumped last year to still get a PR. I definitely want to do better this year. I am going to try and go First-Team All-Conference. I think 30 seconds is within rage, but I am also shooting for a 25-flat.”

As a team, the EIU men placed third overall, but there is plenty of reason for excitement. Jaime Marcos (First-Team), Tyler Lay (Second-Team), and Franky Romano (Second-Team) lead a crew of all top-5 finishers at the OVC last year.

With a healthy Oakley, the junior calls this a “special group of guys” that can make a run for the conference title.

“Our goal for this year was to make a bid to run at nationals,” said Oakley. “We have a special group from last year. At conference, we finished third, but Belmont lost two of their top guys. Eastern Kentucky won it, but you never know with them. They are beatable. As a guys team, we believe we can win the OVC if everything goes well and COVID doesn’t interfere.”

Oakley said that some of the runners have stayed in Charleston, which allows them to go out for runs in the morning.

“Training has gone well,” said Oakley. “Some of the guys, we go out every day. It’s a nice crew. It’s good to have a system of waking up early, getting out the door, and being able to run before the heat or humidity gets rough. We definitely enjoy the company.”

As Oakley looks upon the state and what high schools and colleges have implemented due to the coronavirus, but he said he has tried to remain positive. Oakley said he was anticipating the decision when the Ivy League made their formal announcement for cancelling sports, but called the result “disappointing.”

“We try not to think about it in a negative way, but more that we are going to have a season,” said Oakley. “We are lucky that we are a simple sport and we have the roads that we can use as our training facility. Hopefully, we do plan for a season because it would be disappointing if we lost it.”