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  • 2009 In Review

    Posted on December 31st, 2009

    Another year, another decade gone (that is two complete decades for me, for those of you counting). 2009 was a great year for me. I had success in old and new passions and made wonderful memories.

    Every December, my dad writes a Christmas letter about our family. He began doing this in 1981 and we have all the letters, 1981-2009, in a binder. This binder is placed on our coffee table around the holidays and it gives a chance for us to read about what was going on in our past lives. Family and friends that receive this letter often tell my dad that they look forward to it every year. While I do not have my own family to write about, yet, I will use this blog for my own reflection in the spirit of recording the past year’s events.

    To be honest, the year started out rather unnoteworthy. Indoor track I set no new PRs and for the first time failed to score at a Big Sky track championship, placing 9th in the 5000 and something like 13th in the 3000. I then decided to red shirt the outdoor season, for various reasons. I came up short in the steeplechase as well with a 9:14.94, not being able to best my time set in 2008 of 9:09. In the 5000, I improved my time by the same margin Usain Bolt improved his world record in the 100m, 0.11 seconds.

    Agassiz peak

    After my short outdoor season, I enjoyed doing some other activities in addition to running. I began swimming, began biking and hiked most of Mt. Humphreys. I then turned my focus to triathlons and put in some really high volume days including a run/swim/bike day with 3 hours and 50 minutes of exercise.

    I was my brother’s best man at his wedding on May 30th and spent a few days in Napa Valley wine country. At the end of June I competed in my first Olympic distance triathlon and the Breath of Life triathlon in Ventura. I placed 8th overall and 2nd in my age group and had a lot of fun doing it.

    Gina, Andrew, Me, and the rest of the groomsmen

    For the first time in a while I feel like I have a huge upside in a sport, something I haven’t felt since I was probably a frehsman in high school. No doubt there are more triathlons in my future.

    For the 4th of July my parents, my girlfriend Tina and I met Gina and Andrew, the newlyweds, in Lake Tahoe. The fireworks show was spectacular. Shortly after arriving back home, the fun and games were over and I got an internship at ITT Aerospace Controls in Valencia. I got my first taste of working 9 hour days, 4-5 days/week. Somewhere in there I managed to get in some serious running volume, including my first ever 100-mile week in singles. The hard work I put in during July and August laid a solid foundation for me to build a great cross country season.

    2009 Northern Arizona Cross Country, Fourth Place

    And a great cross country season it was. I led my first cross country race since 2002, earned All-Conference honors at the Big Sky Championships, was the 3rd best 5th man in the country and joined my teammates on the podium — reaching my goal of placing top 100.

    Each race I wrote a detailed race report (some are linked above), all of which I have reread countless times. I am very glad I decided to start this blog this year because I now have an archive of my race experiences. Every time I read about one of those races, I am taken back to that day and I can relive the race. As the years go by, I think this archive will become more and more valuable to me. You can read everything about my 2009 cross country season here.

    For the second year in a row, I feel like I have raised the bar in my running and have experienced great success. I now have only one season of cross country and two seasons of indoor and outdoor track left. After finishing those seasons, I may never compete for a team, or even individually, at such a high level again. With this in mind, I plan to continue to enjoy my remaining eligibility and work hard to reach my full potential in running.

    I hope you all enjoyed 2009 as much as I did. I plan to have a goal-setting post about 2010 within a few days. Until then, Have a Happy New Year!

  • 2009 Cross Country

    Posted on December 4th, 2009

    The 2009 NCAA cross country season finished a week and a half ago now. Going home for the Thanksgiving holiday allowed some time for me to think about the season, go over what went well and what needs some improving, and to start thinking about the next season.

    I officially started the 2009 cross country season on July 6th, a week after my triathlon. I jumped into a 70 mile week and followed with 80 and 90 mile weeks. It may seem a bit aggressive, but I wanted to get in as many 100 mile weeks as I could. The following week was 77 miles in 6 days (My only day off during the season. Just happened to be the only day all season that I couldn’t make any time to go for a run.) and then I started my first 100 mile week of seven.

    This season was a huge success for me. I accomplished both of the goals I set in the Summer: make the top-7 and place in the top 100 at NCAAs. As some of my teammates had some struggles this season, I was actually the only person on the team to score at all seven meets (George Kyte, Aztec, Cowboy Jamboree, Pre-Nationals, Conference, Regionals and NCAAs). When all was said and done, I logged 1,806 miles this season. I have never been as diligent about logging mileage as I was this season, so I do not have a reference to compare with, but I believe that this season far surpassed the mileage I have run in the past. Since high school, I have had a steady increase in mileage and I attribute a lot of the improvements I am making now to that.

    In Jack Daniel’s Running Formula, he says something along the lines that the benefits of high mileage are long lasting. My old teammate Marten Bostrom, who was known to run upwards of 120 mile weeks while running collegiality, talked about the benefits he gained from running such high mileage. Now, about seven months after joining the century club, I am convinced.

    With this in mind, I had a meeting with Coach Heins yesterday talking about goals for the upcoming indoor and outdoor track seasons. I told him that my ultimate goal in collegiate running was to leave NAU as an All-American — no easy task, but that is why it would mean so much. My best opportunity to reach this goal will be next year’s cross country season and everything I do until November 2010 will hopefully be preparing me. We agreed that a year of high mileage is the obvious route to take. Over the next 12 months, I will try to build my aerobic system more and more with a plethora of 100+ mile weeks.

    This is not to say that I am not looking forward to competing on the track this Winter and Spring. For indoors, I will focus on running a good conference meet and contributing to another Big Sky Conference title. If training is going well, and depending on how some of my teammates are running, I may get the opportunity to run a 5,000 at the University of Washington in Seattle. For outdoors, the main goal is to qualify for the first round of the NCAA Championships (aka “Super Regionals”). In the steeplechase, a sub-9 minute performance should get me in. If I am running well enough in the 5,000, a time in the low 14 minute range may be good enough.

    Then there is the 10,000. As of now, I do not have plans to make my 25 lap debut this Spring. If the high mileage is feeling good, and Coach thinks I am ready for a good effort, then I will suck it up and give it my best. 25 laps just seems so brutal.

    As for now, I am running easy a few days a week and doing some swimming. Since I want to give triathlons a serious try post college, I will try to get into the pool regularly all season. If I can swim once a week up until Summer, I should be way ahead of where I was when I started swimming a lot last May. Next week I will start running more, probably around 70 miles, and should be running 100 miles again shortly after the new year.

    Looking forward to may miles of trials, trials of miles ahead…

  • NCAA Cross Country Championships

    Posted on November 27th, 2009

    What a season. I have so much to say about this season that I think I will break it up into several posts. Today, I want to recap the race while it is still fresh in my mind. This weekend I will have some more time to reflect on everything.

    2009 Division 1 NCAA Cross Country Championships

    2009 Division 1 NCAA Cross Country Championships

    Pre-Race

    Heading into this race, I tried to do everything the same way that I have done it all season. Pre-race rituals get you to the starting line feeling the same way every time. If the feeling is good, the routine is good. Likewise, if the feelings are bad, the routine needs some adjusting.

    8AM my roommate Jordan Chipangama and I awoke from a great night’s sleep on the cozy beds of the Terre Haute Hilton Garden Inn. We met our teammates for a 10 minute shakeout and then ate breakfast. For me: oatmeal, banana and a blueberry bagel.

    Unlike Pre-Nationals, we all made the ride to the course together. Before leaving the van, Coach Heins told each of us that he believed in us and that he believed we could achieve our personal goals. He recognized the importance of the race, and told us, “Pressure bursts pipes, but it also makes diamonds.”

    With those words resonating in our heads, we went through our usual warm up routine: 2 mile warm up 60 minutes before, some stretching and a 3 minute LT 20 minutes before the race. It seems we were able to iron out any of the problems we had earlier in the season as everything was like clock work before the race.

    Diego Estrada's name was written on our hands

    Diego Estrada's name was written on our hands

    Half the battle was already over. I was standing on the starting line with my teammates at the National Championships healthy and almost 1,800 miles of training behind me. Unfortunately, Diego Estrada was unable to race, but he was definitely there with us and we hoped to represent him well. We all wrote his name on our hands to remind us that, if Diego was racing, he would run the only way he knows how — guts and glory all the way.

    Senior Simon Gilna gives a final speech

    Senior Simon Gilna gives a final speech

    In the team clap before the race, senior Simon Gilna reminded us, “Believe we can become diamonds, guys. This is the greatest day to be a Lumberjack!” And with that, we raced.

    The Race

    The moment before the gun was fired was an eternity. I stared at the gun intensely, thinking, “Here we go.” Then it was over and we were on our way.

    Heading into the race, I had planned to get out well, perhaps as high as 60th. I went with a bit more comfortable start and was probably somewhere in the top 150. I came flying through the 1km in 2:48. The pace seemed fast, but it was fast for everyone. I continued on in about the same position and came through the mile in 4:37. I found Oregon’s AJ Acosta and Stanford’s Brendan Gregg (Oregon’s 6th and Stanford’s 5th man) and decided to run off them for a while. I hit 2k in 5:50 and 3k in 8:55.

    Me and Ahmed Osman approaching 5k

    Me and Ahmed Osman approaching 5k

    Acosta began moving up through the field, so I followed behind him. As we approached 5k in 15:11, I was very happy to see Ahmed Osman come by me. I gave him some encouragement, something like, “Lets go buddy.” Ahmed would spend the second half of the race passing lots of people. Passing people wasn’t as easy for me.

    I was hurting. But this is the National Championships and no one wins anything without a fight. I slowly went by one runner at a time until 6k when I noticed the next runner was German Fernandez. Either I am having the best race of my life or German was having the worst of his. Judging by the desperation in German’s coach’s voice as he cheered him on, I think it was a little of both. So I went by German without looking back.

    Around 7k it hit me, it is almost all over; just over 9 minutes to go. I tried to push a little bit harder and came through the 8k in 24:38, 5 seconds faster than my 8k time at Pre-Nationals and equalling my course PR set last year. There was no question that I would be setting a big PR today, but how many runners could I pass?

    I continually heard coaches yelling to their runners around me that they were around 100th. In the beginning of the season I set a goal to be in the top 100. It is a very exciting thing to realize you are on the verge of besting a longterm goal. I decided several months and many miles ago that I would work as hard as I had to to reach top 100. Now, with the absence of one of our best runners, that goal was so much more important to me. I was the 5th man, in the thick of the race, and my points mattered.

    Kicking with everything I have left

    Kicking with everything I have left

    With 1k remaining, I tried to put the hammer down and continued passing runners one by one. As we made our last turn, Coach Seth Watkins reminded me, “You want it!” I did want it and I thought about Diego. Diego would finish strong like he always does, leaving everything out on the course. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a gap ahead of me and I spent most of the finish closing the gap. Once I finally bridged the gap, I was able to pass a couple runners.

    I finished in 95th place in 30:52.3, 99 places and 51 seconds better than last year. My season was over and I reached my goal. I was content. I talked to my teammates and heard that David McNeill was 2nd and Jordan was 5th! NAU had by far the best 1-2 punch in the country. Ben Ashkettle finished 59th and Ahmed was 74th. Andrew Belus finished 149th and Simon was 196th.

    2009 Northern Arizona Cross Country, Fourth Place

    2009 Northern Arizona Cross Country, Fourth Place

    As a team we finished 4th, on the podium. We were all very happy with the outcome. Upon looking at the results, Oklahoma State won with 127 points to our 190. In team scoring, I scored 75 points. If Diego had run, he would have had to be 12th in team scoring, which was 14th overall, for us to win the meet. Most of the season, Diego ran just behind Jordan, and assuming today he was within 15 seconds of him, he would have been 14th.

    As I have talked to family and friends since Monday, and explain the situation with Diego, many of them think it is a bummer that we were so close. We were so close, but once we swallowed the pill and realized that Diego would not be competing, new goals had to be created. A guy like Diego Estrada simply cannot be replaced. Heading into the meet, I think each of us wanted to compete in a way that would have put us in the hunt had Diego been there — and that is exactly what we did.

    I am very proud of my team for never backing down in the face of adversity. This race, this season, this team will forever hold a very special place in my heart.

    Thank you David McNeill, Jordan Chipangama, Ben Ashkettle, Ahmed Osman, Andrew Belus, Simon Gilna, Diego Estrada, Kam Holbrook, Tim Freriks, Darius Terry, Joe Withers, Eric Lynch, Scott Blair and Dan Lanzilotti.

    Results: Indvidual Team | Recap on NAUAthletics.com | Recap on Letsrun.com | Highlight Video on NAUAthletics.com | Photos (Album 1 & 2)

  • Why Not?

    Posted on November 22nd, 2009

    It is finally here; NCAA Division 1 Cross Country Championships are tomorrow. Since July 6, my first run of this season, I have logged 1,796 miles. Each and every one of those miles had a purpose: to make me run faster in tomorrow’s race.

    I will not lie, we, as a team, have had some setbacks in recent weeks. We are no doubt not as strong as we could have been. With that said, I believe this is still a great team — a podium team — and on the right day maybe even a national championship team. For us to reach that potential, everyone on the team will need to put out an outstanding effort. Tomorrow I am hoping for the best race of my life.

    This past week I have been asking myself, “Why not?” I have been racing competitively for 16 years now, and I have had some very good races. The way I see it, all my experiences, all the miles run, will culminate tomorrow. I have been training specifically for November 23 to run the fastest 10k I can for the last 4.5 months. Why not make it the best of my life?

    David McNeill, Jordan Chipangama, Ben Ashkettle, Ahmed Osman, Andrew Belus and Simon Gilna will be lining up next to me at 12:08 EST, ready to hurt for eachother one last time this season.

    Coverage on Versus starts at 12pm EST.

    Go JACKS!

  • Nationals Send Off

    Posted on November 20th, 2009

    The NCAA Cross Country Championships are now three days away. All the hard work is done. The only thing left to do is rest and do everything possible to make sure that I am feeling fresh and ready to race Monday morning.

    Feeling fresh is all about tapering just right. If I taper too much, I risk feeling flat on race day. If I don’t taper enough then I won’t be rested enough. The taper is definitely not an exact science and philosophies vary from one coach to the next.

    Tee to Green Workout at Flag Ranch Golf Course

    Tee to Green Workout at Flag Ranch Golf Course

    Keeping all this in mind, Tuesday was NAU’s penultimate workout of the season. We went out to Flag Ranch Golf Course, about a five minute drive West of campus, to do a “Tee to Green” fartlek. As the name suggests, we ran pick ups from one hole’s tee off to its green and jogged from the green to the next hole’s tee off. The idea was to get in about 20 minutes of hard  running on a soft surface similar to what we will be racing on without feeling the usual mental drain of a workout. Coach Heins said we could go as hard or easy as we liked on the pick ups, going completely off of feel. It was really a fun workout and I think we got out of it exactly what Coach wanted us to.

    This afternoon we will have one last workout on Cardinal field to freshen us up. After the workout, there is a team send off dinner at Jotini’s on the Green at the Continental golf course at 6:00pm (2380 N Oakmont Dr.). All are welcome to come, have dinner, and show your NAU team spirit!

    After the dinner, we will be heading down the mountain and staying the night in Phoenix. We have an early morning flight tomorrow and will be traveling for most of the day. Shortly after arriving in Terre Haute, there will be a banquet for all the teams. Tomorrow night or Sunday I should have a little update about the banquet.

    See you at Jotini’s!

  • Mountain Regionals

    Posted on November 15th, 2009

    Yesterday the Northern Arizona Cross Country teams competed at the Mountain Regionals in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you are at all unfamiliar with collegiate cross country, Regionals is the qualifying meet for the NCAA Championships. The top-2 teams from each region (there are 9 regions total) as well as 13 at-large selections will qualify for Nationals. This system promises to have the very best teams at the championship competing against eachother. As Letsrun.com says, “XC Nats are like the All-Star game, the entire playoffs and the Super Bowl all in one cold, remote town (Terre Haute, Indiana and the LaVerne Gibson XC course). And it happens on a Monday afternoon and takes all of 30 minutes.

    Heading into the weekend, we knew we just had to be in the top-4 to get into Nationals. Since nationals is only 9 days after Regionals, and both races are 10km instead of the usual 8km, it makes sense to run as conservatively as possible. This leaves me with an interesting feeling towards the race. These type of races, where you are 99% sure the team will qualify to the next meet, can be tough to get really excited for. In 8 days, no one will care, or likely remember for that matter, who finished where at Regionals… assuming you qualified for Nationals of course. Yesterday’s Regionals was nothing more than a business trip.

    We started off the morning with the usual 10 minute shakeout at 6:45 am. Sky was cloudy, but the roads had dried from Friday’s rain. Unfortunately, we had a casualty in roommate Kam Holbrook. Kam had to take a couple days off this week due to pain in his left mid foot (mid foot sprain?) and decided he couldn’t race on it. Freshman Tim Freriks was then bumped up and took Kam’s spot in the race.

    Shortly after arriving at the course it began drizzling.  I really don’t mind racing in the rain, especially when it is so light, but it can make warming up before the race a pain. By the time we began our warm up, the rain ceased and wouldn’t pick back up till after the race.

    Start of the Mens Mountain Regionals

    Start of the Mens Mountain Regionals

    After about a 200m straight, the course turns onto some dirt with uneven footing and then makes its way back onto a fairway. This made for a physical start and I was glad I got out well… probably in the 25-30 range. I settled in and continued to run just off the leaders in about 30th place coming through the 1k mark in 2:59 and the mile in somewhere around 4:50.

    The course is made up of three loops that wind up and down three fairways, so spectators were everywhere. The crowd was quite loud, which brought me back to my high school cross country days in California where some meets would have thousands of spectators lining most of the course.

    I came through 2 miles around 9:50 in about 35th. I remember feeling a side stitch coming on around 3.5k. I took a few deep breaths and it either went away or I just forgot about it because I don’t remember thinking about it the rest of the race. My 5k time was about 15:30 and I still felt pretty good.

    At 8k (25:0x), Coach Heins told me I was fine right where I was and to just relax and hold my position. From there I found Nick Atwood, who has turned into a bit of a conference rival for me, and decided to race him the rest of the way. With about a kilometer to go, he opened up a gap. With 400m left, I was able to move by him and another one of his teammates and hold them off till the finish. I finished in 33rd with a time of 31:26.9.

    I ran this same course in 2006 and finished 71st in 33:29. Last year I was 50th in Fort Collins, Colorado. It is good to see a steady improvement over the years with a 2+ minute course PR.

    David McNeill took home the individual title for the second year in a row and finished with a time of 29:51. Ben Ashkettle has been steadily moving up all season, finishing 8th yesterday. We will need another big effort from him, and the rest of the team for that matter, on Novemeber 23rd. The team finished 4th behind BYU, Colorado and New Mexico. As we thought, it was good enough for an at-large selection.

    Looking ahead toward Nationals in 8 days, we have a fairly light week of training. It will be my lowest mileage week since taking time off after my triathlon at the end of June. Leading up to the race I will be posting more frequent updates here on RunPD.com with how the taper is going and more thoughts on the race.

    Results | Race Recap on NAUAthletics.com | Photos (coming soon)

  • Big Sky Championships

    Posted on November 4th, 2009

    The Big Sky Cross Country Championships were on Saturday, Halloween, in Greeley, Colorado. As I said the night before the race, the conditions were wet and muddy. The weather did warm up a bit for the race, partially thanks to the races being postponed one hour, as it was over 50 degrees when we left Greeley around 2pm.

    It was a quick trip, leaving Flagstaff at 5:50am Friday (with 20+ Track & Field athletes sending us off. I was really impressed. Awesome to have their support.) and arriving back in Flagstaff by 9pm on Saturday. It was a business trip: we did work and then hopped on a plane home.

    The course started with an uphill on a fairway before turning onto the muddy section. I got out real well and hit the first turn in about 2nd place. It was nice to be able to pick my footing and not be dictated by the pack. After about a quarter mile, David McNeill came flying by and never looked back. Looks like he solved his side stitch issue from Pre-Nationals.

    mudI was amazed to hear that my mile time was 4:56, but I quickly realized that the first mile was a net downhill. At that point, I was just in the top-10 with Ben Ashkettle and Ahmed Osman. A pack of about five formed ahead of us. Ben took off after them and within another couple of miles, left them behind.

    As the course meandered through fairways, cart paths and mud, I worked my way up the field. With about one mile to go, I found myself just off of 5th place’s shoulder. I worked hard for at least half a mile to catch Montana State’s Nick Atwood in 4th, but was unable to make contact. In the end, I settled for a 6th place finish in 25:51.

    After finishing, I turned around expecting to greet Andrew Belus at the finish line. Instead, Kam Holbrook came flying into the shoot just 3 seconds behind me. HUGE day for him. I think it is safe to assume that he was the only one in the field that set a new PR over 8km.

    2009 Big Sky Cross Country Champions

    2009 Big Sky Cross Country Champions

    I entered the race with just two goals: win as a team and earn an All-Conference award which is top-10. It was a successful day with the team scoring just 19 points to win the third Big Sky Cross Country title in three years, even without running #2-3 man Diego Estrada.

    I have to give a shoutout to Nell Rojas and her dad, the legendary Ric Rojas, for hooking me up with a Ric Rojas Running shirt. Huge fan! (Check out page 217 of Again to Carthage by John L. Parker, Jr. Note: his name is spelled wrong)

    Results | Recap on NAUAthletics.com | Photo Album by Heather Kennedy

  • Sloppy Conditions in Greeley, Co

    Posted on October 30th, 2009

    We have arrived in Greeley, Co and have been welcomed with a wonderful manure scent and a very muddy, snowy course. We ran the course just about a couple hours ago, and it was one of the muddiest courses I have ever been on. That said, still nothing compared to NTN 2005.

    It is clear that tomorrow won’t be a day of setting PRs. This meet, being the Big Sky Conference Championships, is all about winning. NAU has won back to back titles for the men, and tomorrow the streak should continue. With that said, racing in conditions like these always level the playing field. As a team, we have to make sure we don’t take anything for granted. We haven’t won anything yet.

    The championship season starts tomorrow. Everything counts now.

    Race goes off at 10AM. I should have some updates on Twitter after cooling down (maybe by noon?).