Leandra Munson nears end of USF cross country career

Leandra Munson finished second out of 93 Division-I runners at the USF Invitational on Oct. 16. PHOTO PROVIDED BY USF ATHLETICS

College is a marathon — not a sprint. But no one knows that better than long-distance runner Leandra Munson. 

The senior began her marathon at USF as a freshman walk-on. 

After years of relentless work, Munson recently led the Bulls for the first time in the women’s 6K course at the USF Invitational on Oct. 16. She finished second of 93 Division I runners with a time of 21 minutes, 51.5 seconds.

“I remember her crossing the finish line, just picking it up and passing everyone,” fellow senior distance runner Bethany Evans said. “Everyone started jumping up and cheering because she passed our other number one runner and just booked it. 

“She got a great time for a home meet.”

Evans and Munson became friends their freshmen year. Not knowing anyone else, they latched onto each other during the intimidating walk-on process.

“It was very nerve-racking as a freshman because you go on and everyone else is really fast, and they’re all on scholarships,” Evans said. “Trying to be in the top 10 is very competitive.”

The competition just intensified once they walked on and made the traveling squad. 

Adjusting from high school to college was difficult for Munson, though she ran track as a sophomore and senior at Ida S. Baker High. 

“I wasn’t really into the long distance stuff in high school,” Munson said. “I liked track, and now it’s kind of funny because I do all the long stuff.”

But Munson wasn’t only unfamiliar with long distance running, she also didn’t realize its intense practice schedule.

“Mondays and Wednesdays, they’re like workouts, so they’re like mile repeats or 800 repeats,” USF coach Dena Reif said. “Tuesdays are hills or pools right now, and Thursdays are just a recovery run, and we race a lot on Fridays and Saturdays.”

With six days of practice, Reif estimated the team practices around 16 hours per week — not including the mandatory meetings and community service hours.

“You add nutrition in there, you add weight session in there, you add two-a-day runs and people that are better than you,” Reif said. “For some people, it either breaks them or it makes them better. For (Munson), she just buckled down and ran with the best.”

Munson and Evans earned scholarships their sophomore seasons.

Although Munson initially wanted to run cross country for fun, once she earned a scholarship, Evans said she felt her friend’s dedication deepen.

“I think (earning a scholarship) just kind of took her above and beyond,” Evans said. “She takes that extra step, does that extra work, goes and does second runs, does the elliptical, does what she needs to do to get better. I think she just overall became way more dedicated.”

Munson wants to finish her marathon strong at USF before graduating in the spring. 

The health sciences major is working toward getting into a dietitian masters program by applying to the University of Florida and Florida International, among others. 

Although Munson doesn’t see herself continuing to run competitively after her time at USF, she still wants to continue to run for fun.

“I want to do a marathon one day,” she said. “Maybe the Disney one.”