On Nov. 21, Lindsay Donaldson ’08 crossed the finish line at Nationals five seconds faster than last year. Unfortunately, she ran alone.

While Donaldson made her second straight appearance at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., Katie McKinstry ’07 won the ECAC Championships in the Bronx, leading the Elis to a fourth-place finish as a team. The Bulldogs competed at the Championships due to repeated failures to qualify for Nationals.

Despite improving her time from last year, Donaldson finished 41st at Nationals, 35 spots farther back than she finished a season ago. Northern Arizona’s Johanna Nilsson dominated on the 6K course, winning with a time of 19:33.9. Caroline Bierbaum, Columbia’s two-time defending Ivy League champion, placed second in 19:46.0. Donaldson’s finishing time, 20:35.4, left her off the lead but, she said, not feeling too disappointed.

The race, as is characteristic of high-profile events, got off to a quick start. Donaldson said she wanted to hang back until the 3K mark before making her move up in the pack. But she was not able to gain enough ground in the race’s second half to place as well as she did last year.

Two days earlier, the rest of the Elis ran at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City, hoping to cap the season with a strong showing. But the race posed an anticlimactic 2005 finale.

All season, beginning with the Bulldogs’ No. 19 national ranking to open the fall campaign, Nationals loomed as the ultimate goal. But disappointing performances at Pre-Nationals and Heps, coupled with a fourth-place finish at Regionals, left the Elis on the outside looking in. Furthermore, many of the East Coast’s top runners were not present, preparing to run either individually or with their teams at Nationals two days later.

With a collection of strong teams and several weakened ones, including Duke and Georgetown, composing the field, several runners said they saw the weekend as a chance to build confidence heading into the indoor track season.

“Usually people are feeling really good there,” McKinstry said. “It’s the icing on the cake; everyone out there wants to finish the season well.”

McKinstry did just that, seizing the opportunity to run in the Elis’ number one slot by handily winning the race in 17:47.5. Almost 13 seconds later, Iona’s Salome Kosgei placed second in 18:00.2, followed by James Madison’s Nelly Anderson in 18:01.7.

McKinstry’s victory marked the second individual title by a Bulldog runner this fall — Donaldson’s win at the Spiked Shoe Invitational in September was the first — and teammates took notice.

“She ran phenomenally,” Kelli Buck ’09 said. “She was simply amazing. I wish I could’ve seen her cross the finish line myself because Katie has worked so hard and she really deserved the win.”

Bevin Peters ’09 followed McKinstry, finishing 21st in 18:40.6. She was followed by Buck (29th, 18;49.6), Elizabeth Calle ’08 (31st, 18:51.0) and Claire Leatherwood ’09 (36th, 18:56.0).

Cornell dominated, winning the team championship with 76 points. The Big Red were followed by Maryland, La Salle, and then the Elis in fourth. Several runners said the fourth-place finish was a small disappointment, but that knowing every runner ran a solid race was a satisfying way to conclude the season.

For every runner on the Yale team, the fall cross country season is just the beginning of the three-season collegiate running schedule. Soon the squad will grow to include sprinters and field event athletes, and training routines will change.

“It never feels like running is over, but it definitely feels like the season is over,” McKinstry said. “It definitely feels like you’re changing gears.”

The change of pace will serve the Elis well. Any disappointments from the fall will have very little time to linger as the Bulldogs travel from Van Cortlandt Park and the Yale Golf Course to Coxe Cage. Nevertheless, there is still a sense of unfinished business after a series of close misses.

“We were hoping to place higher at Heps and reach Nationals,” Donaldson said. “But overall, we are really positive and excited about next year. We had a great sense of camaraderie this season.”