Track is a different sport

Welcome to February. Most of the country is being bombarded with subzero temps and, in a few places, massive snow storms. Luckily for Flagstaff, we only have the former. In fact, while the last two days have been painfully cold, this is hands down the best winter that Flagstaff has had since I have been here. Of course, this is coming from a distance runner who thinks there is no such thing as a bad day if you get to run on dirt trails under blue skies. I have a feeling the ski/snowboard enthusiasts in town don’t agree.

This mild winter couldn’t come at a better time for us. NAU’s Skydome, where our 300m indoor track is located, is being renovated. We’ve been promised it is going to be real nice when it is all done, but in the meantime we are stuck doing workouts at 7pm. Certainly not ideal, so we try to do most workouts outside, weather permitting. But it could be worse. And besides, the cold weather makes us tough, right? It will better prepare us for those tough, cold races… oh wait, it isn’t cross country season anymore! Track is a different sport. There is no “leveling the playing field” in track — there is just a lot of left turns on a flat battlefield with nothing to hide behind. “I’ll start rolling down that hill at halfway” doesn’t exist here. This is where lactic acid thrives and speed trumps all.

Success on the track has been tough to come by for me. As a freshman I ran 3:59 for 1500 and 9:15 in the steeplechase. The next year I ran my first 5k in 14:50 and just missed qualifying for Regionals with a 9:09 in the steeple. Sadly, 3:59/14:50/9:09 are still my PRs three years later. Since then I have ran at nationals in cross country three times, placing 194th, 95th and 87th and scoring for two top-10 teams. Amongst the team there is a bit of a joke about the “studs” little-old-14:50-me has beaten on the cross country course (I get extra points for the sub-4:00 milers I have outkicked). There is no doubt I’m a better runner now then when I ran those times, but I have nothing to show for it on the track. I have some great excuses — red shirting 2009 and knee surgery in 2010 — but I don’t want to be one of those guys people talk about and say “he was a pretty good runner, but he never put it together on the track.” I have finished up my cross country eligibility satisfied with what I accomplished, but track is a different sport, and 2011 will be my final opportunity to put it all together.

Now I was a little banged up over winter break, but I would be foolish to think my last collegiate season would come without some adversity. Every time I go out on the track PRs aren’t going to happen just because I’m convinced I’m a better runner now than I was a few years ago. The work needs to be put in and I need to be ready for battle every race. If I do that I know I will be competing at Hayward Field at the end of May, satisfied.

Here’s to making the next four months count.

This Is It

Yesterday was a great day. It started off waking up from a 10+ hour snooze shortly after 9 am in the bed next two two-time national champion, and fellow teammate, David McNeill. We each had some breakfast while enjoying European Vacation on the television (“What does the Queen do Dad?” “Queens, and vacuums.”). Dave had never seen it. How un-American.

Around 10:30 we left for the course for our pre race routine. Upon arrival we were greeted by my family! My mom and dad have been so supportive of everything I do since I was a little kid. I have no doubts that I wouldn’t be where I am with their encouragement and sacrifices. They were nice enough to bring along my big sister Jaclyn as well! She was the one that got the family into running to begin with, so it is fitting that she is here to see my last cross country race.

Course run-through was fine. On some of our past races this season I think we have been a little too relaxed and joking too much. These make for great memories and help bring the team together, but on the eve of the national championships, I think there will be plenty of opportunities to make memories just around the corner. The course looks fast, much like prenats. Perhaps a little less brown, dead grass. It was rather windy, especially on the stretch that spans the start, 5k, and finish. We took note of the wind and commented on where we should tuck in the pack and when to make our moves. Temperature was nice in the 50s and looks to be a little warmer tomorrow.

After getting our traditional Terre Haute lunch at Penn Station, we just laid around at the hotel until dinner time. Coach Mo picked up Olive Garden for us so we good relax in a hotel conference room together. Over dinner we finished reading Bo Reed’s A Magical Season that we had started on our trip down to Phoenix on Friday. The story tells of the 1988 NAU Cross Country team, one of only two NAU teams to finish within the top-2 at a national championship, and the only team to score a perfect 15 points at the Big Sky Championships. After hearing the story, it was truly magical what that scrappy group of runners from a “little school nestled in the pines.” I hope we can continue the NAU tradition and do something magical today.

We ended the evening with some kind words from Coach Heins and sharing a few words of encouragement from each other, and then a few of us ventured outside for a short walk. We enjoyed some fresh air together and really took it all in. Last race.

Yesterday was a great day. Today, in the words of a wise man, “is the greatest day to be a Lumberjack.” I can’t wait.

Tears of Joy

Have you ever woken up from such a vivid, powerful dream that you had tears streaming down your face? I can recall several occasions in my life where I have awaken from devastating dreams about losing loved ones, nightmares really, where this has happened. I shake my head for a moment, lay my head back down and happily realize that it was all just a dream.

IMG_0862Earlier this week, I woke up to something completely different. Yesterday I was telling a couple of teammates about it, and one of them immediately responded, ???That is RunPD worthy.??? So here I am, writing this blog on my laptop as we make what seems to be a biweekly pilgrimage from our high altitude paradise to Phoenix???s Sky Harbor Airport ??? this time enroot to?? Salt Lake City, UT for the Mountain Region meet, the final step before Nationals.

Monday night I was startled in the middle of the night by those uncommon, yet familiar, tears coming down my face. I sat up, wiped my tears and gently shook my head. What could I have been dreaming me about that brought me to tears? A national championship.

I had dreamt that I was part of a national champion cross country team. Simple as that. I don???t think I have to get too in depth as to why this would evoke strong emotions: it will be my final race wearing an NAU cross country singlet, racing alongside six of my closest comrades whom I have shared victory and defeat with, racing in quite possibly my last cross country race, ever. These were not tears of sadness, like I had felt before, but tears of joy. What a perfect ending to a career that would be. Beautiful.

Due to some unfortunate adversity, this dream is much more bleak than it could have been. I can say with 100% confidence that we will be racing without Jordan Chipangama, 5th overall at Nationals last year, and Ben Ashkettle, our 3rd man from last year. Heading into the season we looked to be one of the greatest teams in the country, on paper. Now, we are relying on much less accomplished runners ??? like sophomore Tim Freriks, junior Andrew Belus, and myself ??? to fill the void. Collectively, this team has made a tremendous effort thus far to do just that.

This dream ??? to win a National Championship ??? is a very distant dream, but as I happily realized just a few nights ago, it is a dream that still exists, and will continue to motivate us until November 22 when we will decide if it is to be a dream come true.